"If anything, the zombie releases of 2012 showed me just how limitless
the narrative potential is for the walking dead." – Paul Goat Allen
Zombie fiction has been riding high for a few years now. The releases in 2010 were so strong (Mira Grant’s Feed, The Loving Dead by Amelia Beamer, Joan Frances Turner’s Dust, etc.), in quality and quantity, that I called it The Year of the Zombie. Last year was arguably just as strong – particularly for zombie novels written by female novelists and powered by unforgettable heroines. Sophie Littlefield’s Aftertime, Rhiannon Frater’s The First Days, Mira Grant’s Deadline, and Jessica Meigs’ The Becoming were all exceptional reads.
And although I don’t think 2012 was collectively as strong for zombie fiction as the previous two years, I did see a fascinating diaspora of sorts. Yes, there were some excellent conventional zombie apocalypse thrillers released in 2012 – Littlefield’s Horizon; Grant’s Blackout; Kenemore’s Zombie, Illinois; etc. – but this year, I saw a marked increase in truly innovative zombie storylines, novels that explored and expanded the boundaries of zombie fiction.
Rhiannon Frater’s stellar The Last Bastion of the Living, set in a future where humankind was all but extinct, explored a very different kind of zombie. But the thing that struck me so powerfully about this read – aside from the bombshell plot twists – was its genre transcendent appeal. It’s vividly realized science fiction, visceral zombie fiction, visionary apocalyptic fiction, but, above all else, it’s a heartrending and – shockingly – hopeful romance. You will never read a novel quite like The Last Bastion of the Living. This was easily my favorite zombie read of 2012 – and one of my all-time favorite zombie reads.
J. R. Angelella’s debut novel Zombie was also noteworthy. Although there are no zombies in the story, this novel will be absolutely cherished by zombie fiction aficionados. In my review of Zombie back in June, I called it: “…a weird and wonderfully entertaining coming-of-age tale about a kid who is finds solace from his deeply troubled existence in his love of zombie movies. It’s simultaneously a bildungsroman à la Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, an homage to zombies in pop culture, and a twisted mystery all wrapped up into one utterly original – and darkly delightful – novel.”
By the Blood of Heroes by Joseph Nassise was an undeniably cool fusion of WWI alternate history, zombie fiction, and steampunk – and I included Paula Brandon’s The Wanderers on the list for the fascinating way she in which utilized zombies in a storyline that was predominantly aimed at fantasy and romance readers.
If anything, the zombie releases of 2012 showed me just how limitless the narrative potential is for the walking dead. I know so many mainstream fiction readers who utterly detest zombie fiction – although they have never read one zombie novel! There is an entrenched prejudice here that all zombie fiction novels will be like a George Romero gore fest – and that’s just patently ridiculous. The titles below run the gamut from horror to mainstream fiction to fantasy romance to science fiction.
Just like the undead characters in these novels, zombie fiction is exceedingly hard to eradicate. Although it certainly has its detractors, zombie fiction will be around long after they have passed away. It’s continuously evolving – and although some significant series ended this year (Littlefield’s Aftertime, Grant’s Newsflesh, Frater’s As the World Dies, etc.), I’m hopeful that 2013 will bring exciting new zombie-powered storylines that will continue to reinvigorate and redefine the genre...
So, without further ado, here are my top zombie fiction releass of 2012!
Paul Goat Allen has been a full-time book reviewer specializing in genre fiction for the last two decades and has written thousands of reviews for companies like Publishers Weekly, The Chicago Tribune, Kirkus Reviews, and BarnesandNoble.com. He is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. You can follow him on Twitter at @paulgoatallen and get all the latest Barnes & Noble book news from @BNBuzz.