Half Past Dead
by Zoë Archer and Bianca D'Arc, fantasy (2010)
Brava, $14.00, ISBN 978-0-7582-4697-4


The packaging Half Past Dead is interesting. Fans of horror movies will definitely notice the Army Of Darkness-style motif of the cover and be tempted to think - correctly - that they will be getting cheesy but fun horror romps in this book. However, I have to wonder just how many romance readers will appreciate this marketing angle.

Yes, there are zombies in this collection of two short stories. But just as how vampires in romance novels aren't really bloodsucking monsters - just emo Frenchmen - and how werewolves never do that skin-tearing at full moon and eat people thing - werewolves are nothing more than hirsute alpha males who are probably closeted vegans - the zombie heroes in these stories have very little to do with the decomposing brain-loving cuddly cadavers you see in horror films. If you really want that kind of zombie romance, try Samantha Winston's adorable Zombie Jack where there is a running gag of the zombie hero's arm falling off during the most inconvenient moments.

Zoë Archer starts things off with The Undying Heart. Her take on zombie lore is heavily patterned after the zombies in voodoo lore. Which is to say, you can't tell apart a zombie from a human unless you watch the eyes carefully and realize that there is something... maybe the human soul... missing in them. Such zombies also give off a disquieting vibe that makes humans around them feel uneasy. These zombies are controlled by their maker and have no willpower of their own.

Except Samuel Reed. He was killed and resurrected as a zombie by a treacherous army commander during the Crimean War, and he spent the next few years doing very bad things for this man, Kenneth Broadwell, until he somehow managed to break of that man's control. When the story opens, he has finally tracked Broadwell back to Yorkshire, and now he intends to finish that villain off.

Also on Broadwell's trail is Cassandra Fielding, a noble lady who moonlights as an agent for the Blade of the Rose, a bunch of folks who make it their mission to stop villains who abuse magic for their vile misdeeds. Because Broadwell has been using the Source to create his zombie army, he is on the order's list. Cassandra's mission is to keep an eye on Broadwell's antics and keep the order informed. But because she can't get telegrams out to the order, she is beginning to wonder whether she should act on her own and try to stop Broadwell. Since she is only on her second field mission for the order, it is a good thing that she bumps into Samuel before tragedy ensues.

Oh, and Samuel is the good friend of Cassandra's brother, and Cassandra has always had the hots for him, so that takes care of the love business.

This story is very fast-paced, with the action heating up more and more until the whole thing resembles a Looney Tunes cartoon rather than a horror tale. That's not to say that this story is terrible, however. The Undying Heart is campy and ridiculous but at the same time very entertaining, especially when Samuel turns into Ash Williams on steroids later in the story. But the story also suffers from typical flaws imposed by the short story structure - many questions are unanswered at the end of day (none too intrusive that it affects my enjoyment of the story, however) and Cassandra's faith in Samuel is too steady to be believable. She's lucky that Samuel is telling her the truth and he's the good guy, or she would have met an unhappy end as a result of her easy acceptance of the things Samuel tells her.

And no, I don't know how Samuel manages to get an erection despite the fact that there is no blood circulating in his body. I can only guess he has the same mojo as Edward Cullen who managed to get Bella Swan pregnant despite the lack of appropriate fluids in his body.

Bianca D'Arc is next with Simon Says. Incidentally, her name may be unfamiliar to you if you don't read electronic books, but she has a very big following for her horny dragon stories.

The contemporary zombie romance Simon Says features a familiar "Me! Protect! You... You! Me! Shag!" hero that you may have come across before in stories by Christine Feehan, Lora Leigh, and the like. Okay, Simon Blackwell is more coherent than your average alpha male hero who usually comes with a whole squad of sequel baits, but he's made of pretty much the same stuff. Once upon a time, he and his squad were decimated by zombies - products of experiments gone awry, just like in those Resident Evil games - but somehow he survives. Apparently he not only is immune to the transform-into-zombie hoo-hoo-hoo thing, he has also experienced some mysterious bodily alterations to make him an improved zombie killer. So that's what he is today, a modern day ex-Marine zombie killer. He manages to take time from his heavy schedule to stalk on Dr Marina Daniels, whom he had an affair with before it happened to him. The fun starts when zombies begin attacking the folks around Marina's clinic.

This story has the same problems as the previous one - the short story format causes many elements like plot and characterization to come off as rather underdeveloped. Some questions remain unanswered by the end of the day. But like the previous story, this one is a fast-paced read full of action and sex. I have my moments of head-scratching when Simon keeps talking about how he wants none of his taint to touch Marina even as he happily shags her all over the place. Yes, I know he uses a condom, but still, what happens if the condom malfunctions and she ends up with Zombie the Magic Brat Bastard? I'd think someone so determined to keep to himself every little bits and pieces of himself will know better than to have sex with a woman with that much abandon.

Speaking of condoms, have to love how, even when they are surrounded by zombies and the world is going to end soon, our lovebirds remember to pack the rubber with them. Now that is what I call meticulous keeping of one's priorities.

Both stories are introductions to the authors' new series, coming soon from this publisher. Oh, don't feel used - the stories here are pretty self-contained if you don't mind not knowing the answer to everything by the end of each story. Just remember that these stories offer some pretty silly and campy fun, only, all the limitations you could think of when it comes to short stories apply to both stories. In other words, don't expect too much, and try to go with the flow, if you think you're up for the ride.

Rating: 76


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