Cracking open a zombie novel is just like digging blindly into a bag of jelly beans. Sometimes you get Black Licorice, or Tabasco, or Expired Yogurt. In other words, these “books” can be quite terrible. They sit half-read in your Nook queue or find themselves relegated to the bargain bin at your local bookstore, and for good reason.
But as with jelly beans, not all zombie fiction is created equal. Hiding somewhere in that bag are the Blue Raspberrys, the Cotton Candys, the Bubblegums. These books are really quite good; they’re loaded with believable characters, creative plots, and (obviously) lots of brain-munching zombies. These tales transport readers to another world, a dystopian future or parallel timeline where the undead have conquered the living and mankind struggles to survive. These intelligent pieces of zombie lit are prime targets for TV and movie adaptations; just look at Pride, Prejudice, and Zombies or The Walking Dead.
Each of the following novels bring something unique to the table. They are absolutely worth the read and would play well on Netflix or AMC, HBO or Starz. Here are 10 pieces of zombie fiction that deserve their own adaptations.
11) Robert Brockway’s The Unnoticeables
You wouldn’t expect a top-tier title to come from a guy who spends most of his time crafting humorous listicles over at Cracked, but hot damn does Brockway’s debut novel sneak up on you. The Unnoticeables is a genre-mashing affair that starts as an urban fantasy and frantically transitions into a tale of cosmic horror, exploring a complex web of sinister rituals and not-quite-human horrors. It’s an epic tale that masterfully weaves through multiple timelines (1970s New York City and present-day Los Angeles), pitting heroes against anti-gods but managing to never take itself too seriously.
The Unnoticeables has it all: angels, demons, and a new take on zombies. They talk, walk, and act like us, but lure unsuspecting victims away to sadistically ravage and consume them. Once turned, these individuals join the ranks of pitiless, soulless husks that also tend to eat people. Brockway’s fresh spin on the zombie genre would provide an excellent foil for the fan-favorite Walking Dead series, with a deep enough story to keep viewers involved week after week.
10) David Moody’s Hater Trilogy
The global community is rocked by an unexpected surge in violent assaults. The relentless attackers — dubbed “Haters” by the mainstream media — lash out without reason or provocation, leaving ravaged corpses in their wake. In the blink of an eye, everyday people are transformed into blood-thirsty maniacs. Worst of all, they retain the ability to think, to speak, to feel. There is no pattern. There is no cure. There is no way to predict who will turn next. Chaos reigns as society begins to crumble; in David Moody’s Hater trilogy, you are either a Hater or a Victim. There is no other option.
The trilogy is quite good, and Moody has apparently been developing a trio of new books set in the same world. There are also rumblings about a movie deal for the Hater franchise in the near future. If the big screen route doesn’t play out, there’s plenty of potential here for a frantic, blood-soaked series.
Hater is similar to 28 Days Later, but on lots and lots of steroids.
9) Tim Lebbon’s Coldbrook
Scientists open a gateway to another dimension. Guess what comes through?
Hint: It’s not bunnies.
Coldrook is very clever and very well written. It has the kind of twisty, dark, unpredictable plot that seems to do so well on the big (or small) screen these days. Lebbon artfully toes the line between full-blown science fiction and Zi-fi, which isn’t actually a real genre but it sounds pretty cool.
8) John Jacobs’ This Dark Earth
In This Dark Earth, renowned author John Jacobs creates a bleak and hopeless dystopian future — humanity has fallen victim to a global plague that reanimates the dead, decimating the population. The soil is contaminated, electronics are rendered useless, and the flesh-starved undead hunt freely. Life, as it was once known, has deteriorated into a cruel and unforgiving state.
Those who survived the global apocalypse have banned together in Arkansas, fighting to secure the last bastion of humanity. Bridge City is part medieval fortress, part Wild West outpost, and serves as the only safe haven for miles and miles. Gus, a ten-year-old kid genius when the world ended, now prepares to become the next leader of the living.
This Dark Earth is a very intelligent novel that forces readers to question the roles of ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys.’ Each chapter is action-packed, and Jacobs constantly drives his characters through a gauntlet of fear, pain, and sacrifice. Zombies aren’t the only thing to fear in Dark Earth, as brutish slavers (a la The Walking Dead’s Saviors) bear down on the survivors of Bridge City.
7) Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire Trilogy
This epic fantasy series doesn’t force the undead down your throat. Much like Game of Thrones, Lawrence’s trilogy focuses more on political intrigue, betrayal, and warfare. It also happens to unfold in a future where the deceased don’t stay quite as deceased as they should. It’s all swords and sorcery, with a healthy side of zombies.
The Broken Empire trilogy catalogs the misadventures of Jorg, the charming and ruthless Prince of Ancrath, as he tries to conquer a kingdom in pieces and push back the Dead King’s growing army. Picture Jax Teller and the Sons fighting Walkers. Only difference is they’d be riding horses instead of Harley’s and swinging swords instead of guns.
6) Paul Finch’s Stronghold
It’s King Arthur meets Night of the Living Dead. Okay, maybe it’s just King Edward, but you get the point. An impregnable castle besieged by legions of the rotting dead, driven by ancient magic and an army of Welshmen. Edward’s soldiers must scramble to answer the question: How do you kill a man that’s already died?
Paul Finch’s Stronghold is imaginative and entertaining. The language is accessible for readers of all levels, though Finch’s writing is gritty and raw. An uncensored adaptation would be heaps of fun: just imagine an entire series dedicated solely to the Night’s Watch and their battle against the undead. Now add a hell of a lot more flying entrails and bloody blood.
5) Jesse Petersen’s Living with the Dead Trilogy
Peterson’s trilogy is a bit of an oddity on this list; it’s infused with humor, heart, and passion. At its core, it might even be considered a love story. In fact, it’s almost a rom-com. But really not at all. Any book that starts with a marriage-counselor-turned-zombie ripping out her client’s throat can’t be called a rom-com.
More like a…Zom Com? Sure, let’s go with that.
The Living With the Dead series introduces readers to Sarah and David, a married couple on the brink of divorce. As it turns out, the couple has a knack for turning their own inner turmoil into corpse-bashing awesomeness. Eventually, the two become Zombie Exterminators, sweeping out uninhabitable areas and collecting bounties for every crushed skull.
It’s a tale as old as time: boy meets girl, girl loves boy, boy and girl team up to slay zombies. It’s got just the type of reinvigorating energy that the zombie genre needs. Plus, who doesn’t love a good power couple?
4) Rhiannon Fratter’s As the World Dies Trilogy
The zombie apocalypse forces Jenni and Katie — two complete strangers — to rely on one another as they fight for their lives. The duo battle through hordes of shambling corpses, trekking across Texas to save Jenni’s oldest son. Along the way, Jenni discovers just how good it feels to put a bullet in each undead creature’s brain. Katie learns that she’s made of much tougher stuff than she ever could have imagined — and she’s a damn good shot.
As the World Dies is one of the most complete series on this list. It explores the effects of grief and loss on the human psyche, and paints a chilling picture of a society on the brink of collapse. Frater does a magnificent job highlighting the very raw, very real emotions of her characters as they attempt to navigate a violent new world. It’s a series dedicated to rebuilding and rebirth, and one that deserves a strong cast of characters to bring it to life.
Finally! A tale of survival and grit with not one, but TWO female heroes.
3) Jonathan Maberry’s Rot & Ruin Series
Samurai sword-wielding Tom Imura is a legendary zombie slayer for hire. His kid brother, Benny, is a pain in the ass who decides to follow in his brother’s footsteps and enter the family business. The Rot & Ruin franchise has all the right pieces to make a bloody good puzzle: zombies, adventure, swords, gore, more zombies, more gore, and violence. That’s what you’re looking for, right?
Aside from great action sequences, Maberry writes some of the better characters in zombie literature. Nix and Lilah, two totally kick-ass chicks, don’t fall victim to the whole ‘damsel in distress’ trope. It’s refreshing, and they’d be right up there with The Walking Dead’s Maggie and Michonne as quick fan-favorites.
2) Peter Clines’ Ex-Heroes Series
The Mighty Dragon. Stealth. Gorgon. Regenerator. Zzzap. These are actual names of actual characters in an actual series, and that series is Peter Clines’ Ex-Heroes.
Imagine, if you would, that the world has been ravaged by a catastrophic zombie plague. Billions are dead, civilization has collapsed, blah blah blah. Here’s where it get’s good: NOW imagine that in the wake of that global holocaust, Marvel’s Avengers banded together to fight hordes of the undead and protect the few remaining survivors.
Oh, and also imagine that the last stronghold of humanity is an old movie studio in Hollywood.
Ex-Heroes is the best kind of mash-up you can have — super humans vs zombies. Some of the strongest super humans ever ARE zombies. Clines has assembled a cast of highly-entertaining Supes, penning a story worth reading again and again and again. If you like the idea of Marvel Team-Ups or DC League-Ups, you’ll love Ex-Heroes.
1) Mira Grant’s Newsflesh Series
Grant’s premise is arguably the most interesting and unique spin on the Life After Z-Day in recent memory. Set twenty years after the Rising, each chapter switches perspectives between sibling-bloggers Georgia and Shaun Mason. The pair end up on the trail of the biggest story story of their lives — the dark conspiracy behind the Z-Virus.
Much of the world is still in ruins, but that doesn’t stop Shaun and Georgia from fighting to disseminate the truth. What they uncover is much more sinister than they were prepared for: the shadowy figures behind the outbreak seem to have their hooks in every agency, spies around every corner. It’s sarcastic, it’s intelligent, and it’s got TONS of rotting corpses.
If you haven’t read it, Grant’s Newsflesh series is highly recommended. Seriously, stop reading this list and go check out book one, Feed.
Opening Statement: “Nothing is impossible to kill. It’s just that sometimes after you kill something, you have to keep shooting it until it stops moving. And that’s really sort of neat when you stop to think about it.”
Did we miss any of your undead literary favorites? Let us hear all about it in the comments section.