They’re bloody everywhere aren’t they? Western media is awash with the shambling degenerates, mindlessly meandering through malls or ineffectively banging against baffling barriers of glass. Of all the stages of human life, only babies are more hopeless.
The zombie theme has reached saturation point – nay! It reached saturation point over a decade ago when 28 Days Later tried to reanimate the rotting genre with super-fast zombies. Cillian Murphy tried to trick us, but we knew what they were. You can call it “the Rage” all you like – they’re still zombies.
So while The Walking Dead went back to basics to find human drama in a world of brain-chomping corpses, Kory M Shrum sought an entirely different form to explore life after death.
Death becomes her
Dying for a Living is incongruous among its peers as being genuinely original. Zombies, here more politely referred to as Necronites, are dead folk what came back. Rather than decaying forever, their brains reboot, their bodies kick in and their wounds, slowly but surely, manage to heal.
These zombies, rather than having a hankering for human flesh, save the lives of people whose deaths have been foreseen by precognitive seers. “Replacement agents” go in, watch them come close to perishing, and then die for them, in a vague queue-jump of the soul. Then they wake up in the hospital with rigor mortis and spend a week recuperating.
I think this falls under “Urban Fantasy”, or maybe “Young Adult”, though I’m unfamiliar with the latter’s slightly condescending catch-all market. Either way, I’m new to the scene, so was expecting hokey characters, awkward romance and themes of “finding your place in the world” and “friendship is forever”, or whatever those Divergent books are about (I’ve only seen the film: a thinly veiled classroom clique drama in an underwhelming dystopian shell).
(My ignorant opinions, you understand, are formed without having actually read anything in the realm of YA. I’m well aware I shouldn’t judge a book by the chiseled, brooding hunk on the cover.)
But Dying for a Living is a delight! Shrum has a great narrative voice, both playful and direct, and her characters have wants and needs, which they go off and pursue like real people with agency.
There are scenes of a pretty gruesome nature, too, and genuinely uncomfortable to read at times. There’s murder, beheadings, stabbings, prostitution, kidnapping, extortion, police harassment. It sounds pretty depressing, right? But it’s not. Shrum’s voice is so cheerful that, aside from some of the more emotionally driven scenes, it’s dealt with in a light-hearted manner.
The writing is accomplished and clean, with only a few minor typos here and there. Meanwhile, Shrum employs alliteration sparingly and well; and some of her jokes evoke real-life LOLz.
Dying for a Living is the first book in a series, so it foreshadows events and machinations that don’t get used in this instalment. Take this cache of Chekhov’s guns, for instance:
“I’ve heard necronites can move things with their minds, alter reality around them, and even teleport. Anything you can think of… Some can even resurrect corpses from their graves and control them like an army. They can freeze time with their willpower alone…”
It’s not a problem that none of these things occur in this book, but that’s a hell of a lot of undetonated ordinance lying dormant until another day.
Heaven hath no fury
I only had two qualms with Dying for a Living. The first is the inclusion of two angels – yeah, I know – that do nothing but stand around being unseen by everyone but the protagonist. Probably would have preferred it if this zombie story had avoided Christian fantasy tropes, but never mind.
The only other problem was one of the twists at the very end, which I won’t detail here for the sake of spoiling it, but it was a little unsatisfying, to say the least.
Still, I thoroughly enjoyed the story as a whole. It wouldn’t usually be “my thing”, but the writing quality is undeniable and it was entertaining – not to mention currently available FREE on Amazon. Sure, there’s not a whole lot to make you think, necessarily – but it’s a fun romp and an imaginative take among a horde of zombie stories.