Monday, 31 August 2009
REVIEW: KISS OF LIFE - DANIEL WATERS
From Amazon.co.uk: When Phoebe’s best friend Adam takes a bullet for her, it proves everyone right - Adam is in love with her. And now that he’s come back to life, Phoebe’s more important than ever. A zombie can come back from death faster if they’re loved - and kissed… which means Phoebe has to say goodbye to Tommy Williams, the other zombie in her life. While coaxing Adam back to reality and fending off Tommy’s advances, Phoebe tries to carry on as normal. But what’s normal when teenagers are rising from the dead and scores of others want nothing more than to send them back to their graves? And does having a zombie boyfriend make Phoebe a target too?
Zombies. They’re a puzzling species. As a major fan of fantasy and horror, I adore most supernatural archetypes, especially when they’re the love interest for a human protagonist. Werewolves? No problem. Faeries? Love ’em. Vampires? Can’t get enough. So why is it I’m a little reluctant about z-romance? Don’t get me wrong, I love me some zombies when they’re trying to eat human brains. What could be scarier then the infected in 28 Days Later, or more desperate than the unconsecrated in The Forest of Hands and Teeth? Very little, that’s what. And yet, as romantic leads… I’m not so convinced.
Somehow, I managed to put these feelings aside when I read Daniel Waters’ Generation Dead. If you haven’t read it yet and don’t want to stop! reading! here! to avoid the spoilers ahead… the premise is that teenagers across America are rising from the grave, causing the rest of the nation to basically freak out. These ‘living impaired’ or ‘differently biotic’ kids generally just want the chance to go about their living deaths in peace - going to school, dating, minding their own business - but face a whole heap of prejudice from the majority of living people. I took a leap with Generation Dead. I told myself to stop thinking about the fact that some of these characters are basically corpses and therefore icky, and to engage with the social commentary. There were, after all, fascinating parallels with many types of prejudice that pervade our society - and if it gets readers thinking about how they can contribute to overcoming prejudice (their own and other people’s), that’s a wonderful thing. That was enough for me, and I found a lot to enjoy in Generation Dead.
The problem is, Kiss of Life is a sequel. I’ve already taken on board the message from the first book and marvelled at Daniel Waters’ cleverness in drawing these parallels. To enjoy Kiss of Life, I was going to need more than a message. I was going to need pages filled with emotion, or a can't-put-it-down plot, or major character-love. Did I find it? Um…
My initial attempt at reading Kiss of Life fizzled out pretty fast. The book opens with newlydead Adam adjusting - or rather, not adjusting - to his undeath. To illustrate the physical difficulty of this, some chapters are told from Adam’s point of view, as he tries to get his words out in a stilted stream-of-consciousness that I actually found quite tired at first. Goth-girl Phoebe is trying her hardest to be there for him, largely out of guilt - after all, he died trying to save her. Overall, I felt as though I’d been here before. The inner turmoil about whether she really loved Adam, or just owed him her support didn’t seem that far removed from her feelings about Tommy in Generation Dead. I certainly wasn’t hooked, and I ended up putting the book to one side in favour of other reads I was more excited about.
I’m a big believer in second chances, and I also know that sometimes it’s not the book, it’s me. So, this weekend I went back to Kiss of Life. This attempt was more successful. The Phoebe / Adam storyline seems all-over-the-place - first it’s a love triangle, then it’s not, then maybe it is - and that really didn’t pick up for me. However, the secondary characters really come into their own in this instalment. There’s a sweet romance involving Colette, and Phoebe’s friendship with zombie Karen DeSonne was another high point. Karen is so fully reanimated that she’s able to pass as a living girl, and as someone who is accepted by the beating hearts but identifies as a zombie she’s full of conflict, which makes for a truly fascinating character. There are also revelations about the Hunter Foundation that I didn’t see coming, which set up some promising material for the next book in the series.
However, I found Kiss of Life ultimately lacking in action. This book won't be the one to convince me that zombies can be romantic - less because of the ickiness, and more because I just didn't like the romantic leads enough. If you adored Generation Dead, you'll probably enjoy this one, because it's more of the same. As in Generation Dead, the prejudice against zombies is a major focus of this sequel - and although Waters goes a little deeper with this theme in Kiss of Life, I think the point was made well enough the first time around.