'R' is a zombie. He has no name, no memories and no pulse, but he has dreams. He is a little different from his fellow Dead.
Amongst the ruins of an abandoned city, R meets a girl. Her name is Julie and she is the opposite of everything he knows - warm and bright and very much alive, she is a blast of colour in a dreary grey landscape. For reasons he can't understand, R chooses to save Julie instead of eating her, and a tense yet strangely tender relationship begins.
This has never happened before. It breaks the rules and defies logic, but R is no longer content with life in the grave. He wants to breathe again, he wants to live, and Julie wants to help him. But their grim, rotting world won't be changed without a fight... (Synopsis from Goodreads)
If you’ve seen the trailers for the film version of this without really knowing much about the book, like I had before reading it, then you’re in for a surprise. The film looks like it takes a more comedic approach, and the world looks much less dystopian (though of course, it’s hard to tell from a short trailer), which could fool people into thinking this is a lighter, fluffier book than it really is. It’s deep, sometimes disturbing, weirdly romantic even in the most bizarre circumstances, clever, full of black humour, often violent, and told in an interesting style that’s somehow both poetic and very matter of fact. And, while I do think the movie looks fun, this book is really something special: a unique and moving twist on the zombie apocalypse that I can’t recommend enough.
Make no mistake; this book is dark. The zombies eat people with gusto, post-apocalyptic human civilisation is pretty bleak, and there are plenty of people – both dead and alive – who are trying to kill each other. There’s also a particularly monstrous kind of zombie that moves more quickly than the others, scuttles up buildings, and forms a kind of skeleton zombie-cult, that I found very scary. In the story, R, the main character, is a zombie who’s changing for some mysterious reason that neither he nor the others understand. He becomes obsessed with a human girl who helps him to think about life again... but this isn’t exactly a fuzzy love story. R and Julie’s fates become entwined when R eats the brain of a boy called Perry. R literally consumes Perry’s memories, including thoughts of Perry’s girlfriend, Julie. Then, while still covered in Perry’s blood, R helps Julie to escape his ravenous zombie friends.
It doesn’t sound like the best start to a romance, but R and Julie’s odd relationship is actually surprisingly sweet. That’s because this is also a book with a lot of heart; it has deep messages about human nature, and while it does not necessarily gloss over the more disturbing elements of its subject, it is a very hopeful story. The latter is a little ironic, given that the story is so strongly based on Romeo and Juliet, even referencing the names of characters and specific scenes (such as the balcony). Where Romeo and Juliet is about tragic fate, however, Warm Bodies shows that there is life and love even in the most desperate and dangerous times.
There were some elements of the book that were perhaps a little cliché, which was disappointing given the otherwise original spin on the zombie idea. In particular, the obvious ‘military leader who is too set in his ways to accept differences of opinion and just wants to shoot stuff instead’ character irritated me slightly. I also thought Julie’s extreme importance to the other zombies later in the story was a little bizarre and unconvincing. However, using zombies as a metaphor for despair and apathy, and the boneys as a symbol of rigidity and intolerance was very interesting, and I thought a lot of the messages the book carried were cleverly conveyed.
I loved the idea that zombies such as R might be intelligent and almost poetic inside their own minds, but that when they try to speak only groans emerge. R was a fantastic point-of-view character, who told the story with wit, charm, and a dry sense of humour that made it a joy to read. The book is written in a literary style with plenty of black humour and zombie pop-culture references thrown in. This really makes it stand out from typical zombie stories, being a more thoughtful read and focusing less on the horror. The character of R is what really makes this work, and holds the whole thing together. There was one small thing that niggled about R, however; there were points where he seemed to get off a little too lightly with things he had done. Julie and her friend are very quick to forgive his zombie behaviour, and though this makes logical sense, it didn’t ring true emotionally for me.
Warm Bodies is definitely a quirky book. It’s thoughtful, surprisingly romantic, funny, and takes quite a unique approach to the zombie story. It also has a sense of dark fun to it, and includes a few scares and some gore too. R is a wonderful narrator, who pulls the book together and adds a strong sense of heart and hope to the story. The author combines all these elements effortlessly into something moving, exciting, and very different from anything I’ve read before in this genre. I really loved this one!
Thank you to Random House and NetGalley for providing a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.