Meet Angel Crawford. High school dropout, recovering drug addict, convicted felon, zombie. She’s finally started to turn her life around, following the accident and subsequent intervention which saved her life (kinda) and left her with a permanent craving for human brains. As a van driver and morgue assistant for the local Sheriff’s Office, she has easy access to all the tasty, tasty brains she needs to stay sane, ambulatory, and relatively intact. She’s dating a cop, looking forward to the end of her probation, and drug-free. So why aren’t things going better?
Because she’s still a zombie, and the world is a very strange, occasionally hostile, place, and there are more things in Heaven and Earth than are dreamt of in her philosophy.
So what’s she have to worry about? For one, she has to pass the GED as one of the conditions of her probation, and she’s running out of time in which to actually start studying. For another, her cop boyfriend (also a zombie) wants her to meet the family (who undoubtedly won’t approve of her rather well white trash background). For a third, someone just robbed her at gunpoint while she was on the job, and stole a body. And the higher-ups don’t seem inclined to believe her story. After all, who’d want a janitor’s corpse?
Well, once Angel starts looking into things, all sorts of weird discrepancies pop up. The body she lost is almost identical to a zombie she knows to be decidedly dead (decapitated by a hunter months ago.) Strange things are afoot at the NuQuesCor labs, and it all seems to tie into a rash of zombie deaths and disappearances. Someone activate the mad scientist alert. The more Angel learns, the worse it gets, until she’s kidnapped and gets to see just what’s going on behind closed doors. Now she’ll have to use all of her resources if she wants to live to slurp down another brain smoothie.
The sequel to My Life As A White Trash Zombie, this urban fantasy continues the story of an unlikely heroine trying to make something of her messed-up existence. So far, this has been an incredibly fun series, and a breath of fresh air in an increasingly crowded field. While there’s no denying that the basic premise is fascinating and entertaining, the real draw here is Angel’s personal journey of growth and self-discovery. She’s no kick-butt action heroine, prancing around in leather pants and wielding swords and guns with calm style. She’s a mess from the ground up, with all sorts of issues, and watching her put her life together and improve is almost riveting. We see a lot more of that growth in this book, as she deals with her alcoholic, physically abusive father (who’s trying and failing to improve his own life), calls out her boyfriend for continually trying to do things “for her own good,” and even gives her weasel of a boss a piece of her mind when he as good as throws her to the wolves. (It’s election season, and her background makes her a liability, you see.)
Angel’s a heroine worth cheering for. Sure, she’s a redneck with a brains addiction, a high school dropout who can’t even get it together to study for the GED, a woman with a felony record, but she’s a genuinely good person who’s finally learned how to care for, and respect herself. The complexity of the character makes her fascinating.
As I said, the premise itself is pretty darn cool, and in this book, things get complicated. There are several kinds of people who write zombie stories. You have the ones who use zombies as a plot device or a setting, and who don’t really care where they came from. It’s all handwavium, you know? George Romero is a great example of this: it doesn’t matter where the zombies came from or why, they exist and therefore they eat brains. Then you have the ones who want to know the how and why. These writers have way too much fun delving into the science or mythology behind their zombies. Mira Grant’s a perfect example, given the way she explores how her zombies function. And now Rowland proves to be of the latter category, as she introduces a scientist whose primary job is to cheerfully info dump science all over the place. Turns out it all has to do with parasites. Go figure! The important thing is that Rowland puts plenty of time and thought into making the whole thing work, which in turn strengthens the underlying premise of the series.
Throw in some mad science, the zombie Mafia, an evil conspiracy, people who hunt zombies, people who straddle the line between antagonist and ally, and you have the recipe for a fast-paced, thoroughly entertaining story. I never could get into Rowland’s other series (Mark of the Demon) but Angel Crawford’s adventures have become a must-read for me.
Before I wrap this up, I have to call attention to Daniel Dos Santos’ brilliantly evocative cover. Not only is this a wonderfully skeevy rendition of the protagonist in an appropriate setting, but he’s worked in the title and author name quite nicely. Dos Santos has turned out some of the best covers in the business, and this is just one of many eye-catching, vibrant, memorable pieces. Kudos all around.
Michael M. Jones is a writer, editor, and book reviewer. He lives in Roanoke, VA, with a pride of cats, way too many books, and a wife who occasionally steals whatever he’s reading. For more information, visit him and an ever-growing archive of reviews at Schrodinger’s Bookshelf. He is the editor of the forthcoming anthology, Scheherazade’s Facade.