Warm Bodies shakes up all the rules of zombie fiction by telling the story from the viewpoint of a zombie. In most zombie books the zombies appear incapable of speech or thought and appear driven solely by an overwhelming hunger. Isaac Marion turns those ideas upside down with his main character ‘R.’ He goes by R because as he explains it none of the zombies can remember something as identifying as their names, let along their pasts. Although R might share that in common with his fellow shamblers, there is something different about him. He may not be able to articulate more than a couple of words at a time, but inside his head he has the soul of a poet. He also actively notices things about his surroundings and collects tokens of the former world when out on food forays. Most importantly, he barely resembles a zombie as he is only a little decayed.
It’s startling to be inside the head of any zombie and particularly R as he is both wry, thoughtful, and charming. It’s not a stretch to believe that while out killing the Living to feed, he decides not to kill Julie and instead bring her back to his hive and keep her safe, a feat he accomplishes by smearing other zombies’ blood on her to disguise the smell of the life she pulses with. Initially overwhelmed and terrified Julie quickly realizes that there is something very different about this flesh eater and begins to develop a rapport with R who seems to know a lot about her (I won’t spoil the how) and she also finds it refreshing to have someone who is such a good listener, partially because he doesn’t talk in long sentences and partially because they seem to be on the same wavelength despite the tiny difference of one of the being alive and one of them being dead. After all, what’s a tiny thing like not having a pulse matter when they both share a love of music, particularly Frank Sinatra?
Their burgeoning relationship grinds to a halt when Julie is discovered by the other dead and R rescues her and helps her return to the stadium where the surviving humans live. However, like any smitten beau, he can’t seem to get over her and in classic movie scene style realizes he has to be with her. Only instead of the typical scene of a someone racing through an airport to catch his love before she boards a flight, R’s plan to be with the woman he has fallen for involves some hilarious playacting from some fellow zombies who have begun to feel the effects of the relationship between R and Julie which is making them all a little less undead.
I really enjoyed R’s dialogue and actually found it plausible that someone could fall for someone who isn’t breathing. My only criticism of the book is the ending which fell short in terms of how the zombies came to be in the first place and what happens to them in the end of the book.