First published in September of 2012 (US) and October 2012 (UK), US author Gena Showalter’s novel ‘Alice In Zombieland’ formed the first instalment into the author’s young adult zombie series ‘The White Rabbit Chronicles’.

DLS Synopsis:
Life for Alice Rose Bell hadn’t been entirely normal thus far for the young girl.  The same went for her younger sister, Emmaline Lily Bell.  And they blamed their father for it.  After all, it was his delusional paranoia that made living a normal life so impossible.  Because of his constant fears of monsters, none of the family was allowed outside once the sun set.  Instead, once dusk appeared, the Bell family were locked up in their overly-secured home, until daybreak arrived announcing the arrival of the next day.

But on Alice’s sixteenth birthday, everything would change for the young teenager.  She had managed to convince her parents to allow them all to attend Emma’s ballet recital that very evening.  A recital that would end after the sun had gone down.  But, feeling guilty for forgetting their eldest daughter’s birthday, Alice’s parents (Phillip and Miranda) decide to allow this break from the rules this one time.

However, on the drive home, as they are approaching the local cemetery, Phillip Bell’s anxiety gets the better of him, and in a blind panic, he grabs the steering wheel causing the car to swerve and crash.  And just before Alice loses consciousness in the resulting car wreck, she witnesses her parents out on the roadside being consumed by zombies.

With her parents and sister deceased, Alice is taken in by her grandparents.  With the summer holiday almost over, Alice needs to face the prospect of a new school, where she will need to make new friends and adjust to a whole new life.  Luckily, whilst recovering in hospital from the few cuts and bruises that she endured from the car crash, Alice meets fellow teenager Kathryn (Kat) who instantly welcomes her into her inner circle of friends.

And so, with the blossoming friendship of Kat helping her, Alice Bell’s first days in Asher High are relatively pain free.  But it’s not long before she encounters Cole Holland and his gang of young delinquents.  A group of rough young lads who the entire school is scared of.  But it’s Cole Holland himself who Alice is drawn to.  And upon their eyes meeting for the first time, the two are thrust into a strange vision, playing out an intimate scene with them embracing in a passionate kiss.

Things are getting freakier by the day for Alice.  Cole Holland wants to know what’s going on.  Why they are both experiencing these visions when their eyes meet for the first time each day.  But Holland and his gang have their own closely-guarded secrets.  They know the truth of the matter about the monsters that are out there.  And they are at war with the evil that stalks the streets hunting for fresh victims.  They are the zombie slayers…

DLS Review:
Okay, so before having the book sent to me for reviewing purposes, I had no idea it was aimed at a young adult market.  In fact, I incorrectly assumed that it was another comical literary mash-up, ala ‘Pride and Prejudice And Zombies’ (2009), with zombies once again injected into the classic storyline.  However, as it turns out, this particular mash-up idea had already been done by Nickolas Cook with his novel ‘Alice In Zombieland’ (2009).  What bestselling author Gena Showalter is instead offering up is the first part in a young adult zombie series with a young girl named Alice as the principal protagonist.  Other than a couple of other loose ‘Alice In Wonderland’ (1865) references, the novel has nothing else to do with the children’s literary classic.

So what have we got?  Well, once the novel is properly underway, it’s a cross between ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’ (1997 – 2003), ‘I Am Legend’ (1954) and the likes of ‘Saved By The Bell’ (1989 – 1993).  Written in the first person perspective of Alice, the novel relies heavily on the young girl’s witty musings and comical dialogue, along with her colourful personality and instantly likeable character traits.  Indeed, Alice Bell is one of those sharp-witted wise-crackers who always has a quick come-back up her sleeve, even when faced with potentially dire circumstances.

Along with Alice you have her newly acquired best friend, Kat, whose colourful and energetic personality is so instantly likeable that it’s hard not to smirk at almost everything the young girl says.  And it’s with these two characters, along with the tough and toned Cole Holland (plus his mob of troublesome misfits), that the novel takes it main backbone.  The whole zombie element only really comes into play around a third of the way into the tale, and it often takes a bit of a backseat to the seemingly endless teenaged soap opera relationship and friendship politics which the novel is so immersed in.

Outside of the light-hearted character building and clicky school politics, Showalter spends a vast amount of time setting down the various complexities and elaborate rules of her zombie dilemma.  Indeed, it’s not a simple case of the dead have risen and their after some tasty human flesh.  Oh no.  Instead, Showalter has made the zombies into infected spirits which have risen from human bodies.  And the characters can’t fight these evil entities in their natural form.  What’s in the spirit realm has to be fought in the spirit realm.

So, mix in a shovel full of spiritual intricacies within this war between the forces of good (Cole Holland’s gang of ‘slayers’) and the forces of evil (the zombies), along with another team of scientists (Anima Industries) who want to harness the zombies immortality, and you’ve got a pretty elaborate horror story plot.

Now, I’m certainly not very well acquainted to young adult fiction.  It’s far from my forte and to be honest not an avenue I would purposefully explore any further.  That said, I must confess that I did still find much of the witty and colourful characterisation quite entertaining.  However the moral guidance on issues such as sex was more than a bit cringe worthy, and the lack of any real ‘bite’ to the zombies (i.e. some good old blood-drenched zombie-noshing) was a bit disappointing; but much of the novel still managed to keep me entertained (to a certain degree).

However the main failing in the novel is undoubtedly the over-worked nature of the intricate principles behind Showalter’s spiritual premise.  The author has incorporated too many ill-fitting elements to the plot, with often weak reasoning behind why things happen the way they do.  I probably groaned more than I smirked throughout the length of the book, with the novel never really keeping to a steadfast pace along with constantly feeling the need to justify the various rules that govern the zombie plot (however painfully weak the justifications may be).

Elements work, and elements don’t.  The novel’s probably the very definition of a mixed-bag.  But after finishing this first book, I have to say that I came away feeling a little deflated.  Some serious trimming and tightening of the plot could have produced a very different outcome.  But as it stands, ‘Alice In Zombieland’ sadly misses the mark on too many occasions.

The novel runs for a total of 404 pages and also includes an annoying ‘What’s On Alice’s iPod’ page as well as a very brief 2 page Q&A with the author.

© DLS Reviews


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