This is undoubtedly the YA anthology of the year. The line up of authors is extraordinary, and the stories are consistently good. It helps that it’s a very meme-able anthology concept as well, with authors, editors and readers alike picking a side in the “war” between Team Unicorn and Team Zombie. I was rather pleased coming into this that I didn’t have a side – swinging voters always have more power! But in fact, Team Unicorn and Team Zombie is less about which fantasy creature you love and adore, and more about which one you think is totally uncool.
In essence, Zombies V. Unicorns is an anthology about prejudice. Unicorns and zombies are both fantasy tropes which tend to provoke strong reactions in people – of a yuchhhh variety. Apart from a few notable exceptions, I’ve generally been in Camp Zombies and Unicorns Both Suck, which makes this anthology extra useful as it’s a book for people who thought they hated one, the other or both, which is full of great, vibrant stories designed to make you change your mind.
Having said all that, counting the seven stories I really liked out of the anthology, I have four unicorns to three zombies, and three out of my top four are farting rainbows. Unicorns for the win!
One of the most enjoyable aspects of the anthology is the editorial voices, who bicker and bitch their way through the story notes, and mock each other’s choices. It’s great fun to read, though I was very cranky that one of their amusing interchanges spoiled a twist element from Margo Lanagan’s story. Don’t read the intro note to hers until after the story itself!
Alaya Dawn Johnson’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” was a gut-wrenching story of fear and love, showing the point of view of a zombie with brains (not the edible kind), and how a functional, intelligent zombie might be very like a serial killer. Icky, powerful stuff, with a strong thread of unrequited love which got under my skin.
Margo Lanagan’s “A Thousand Flowers” looks at the medieval tradition of unicorn stories, and tells a tale of courtly love and a disgraced, pregnant lady through the eyes of three different narrators. It’s a beautifully written piece that unfolds slowly.
Diana Peterfreund’s “The Care and Feeding of Your Baby Unicorn” comes from the same world as her novels Rampant and Ascendant, and the story “Errant” which appeared in Kiss Me Deadly. In this, she tells the story of Wen, a girl with unicorn-hunting heritage whose family refused to let her go to be trained properly in Rome, thanks to their religious beliefs. Wen is charged to care for a helpless infant unicorn at a time when her whole town is being terrorised by a larger, deadlier example of the species. Caring for the unicorn means lying to her family and possibly rearing a monster who will turn on her… it’s a powerful, page-turning character story, and I was disappointed when it came to an end.
Meg Cabot’s “Princess Prettypants” makes fun of the kind of unicorn any right-thinking hipster loves to hate – up to and including rainbow-coloured farts! It’s a very cool teen story about friendship and loyalty and bad choices. Those of you who were angry and frustrated at the recent don’t-sext-your-boyfriend-or-we’ll-shame-you ad campaign will enjoy a particular aspect of this story, in which one girl and her unicorn help a friend to get revenge against a badly behaved dude at a party.
I also really enjoyed Naomi Novik’s “Purity Test,” Maureen Johnson’s “Children of the Revolution” and Scott Westerfeld’s “Innoculata.”
Not only do I recommend this book heartily to fans of good YA spec fic, regardless of their opinions of zombies and unicorns, I recommend you buy it in hardcover. It’s not that expensive, and the production is gorgeous.