Note: Portions of this post first appeared in the Roswell Daily Record.
I’m going to start the New Year with an unusual topic – zombies and romance. I always enjoy a good dystopian or post apocalyptic story and I was a fan of the Walking Dead TV show for a long time, right up until the character of Negan arrived and it became too much even for me. But the Walking Dead was not a romance either even if there were occasional romantic elements.
I enjoy reading how civilization came to an end, how the characters came to realize zombies were now a part of their lives and watching the character arcs as people find ways to survive and thrive. The human spirit triumphs. Eventually.
There are certain things a reader has to accept if they’re going to read zombie stories. There will be a lot of gory scenes with the undead chomping and the humans fighting back. Honestly, I skim those. Characters you really like won’t make it to the end of the series. Some will of course but usually not all the original group of plucky survivors gets to that happy ending on the last page. Other characters a reader might really like are introduced over the course of the series – don’t get too attached because these people tend to meet a bad end as well, maybe not in the same book where they appeared, but eventually. Not all of course or the plot would be too predictable.
Children, dogs and cats aren’t immune from the zombie horde and authors may occasionally choose to sacrifice one or two along the way. I always find that very hard to accept.
The Female Main Character and Male Main Character usually do get to the happy ever after or happy-for-now-in-a-safe-place ending. Although I read one series where the FMC went through not one but two supposed MMC love interests, each of whom ended up in a pile of zombies, before she reconnected with The Right MMC.
The main characters will be battling the undead of course and authors can get very creative in how the zombies act and create menace. There are fast ones, slow ones, smart ones, hordes, animal zombies…
There will inevitably be evil humans who prey on the other survivors just because they can, in the absence of law and order and the comforts of civilization. I’m never too interested in these subplots but that’s often what moves the action along. Main characters tend to trust the wrong people they meet a lot. And a word of caution should you ever find yourself in a zombie apocalypse – don’t get caught in any kind of government-run camp or safe haven. It won’t stay safe for long!
Even in the books listed as romances there isn’t usually much ‘spice’ in the bedroom, even for characters who have a genuinely loving connection. Of course like anything else, a reader can find exceptions to the rule.
Okay, content warnings over – are you ready to consider a few series?
My current favorite is Until the End of the World Series, the City Series and the Cascadia Series by Sarah Lyons Fleming. I devoured these. The three series occur in the same universe, which I liked, and follow characters who have connections to each other. My favorite was the City Series, I think. I had such a thing for Sylvie and Eric, the two main characters, and the way they met all the many challenges and also went from nearly enemies to lovers. The supporting characters were also excellent. The Until the End series follows Eric’s sister and her group of friends and supporting characters and was satisfying. The Cascadia Series takes place on the west coast and the romance is between two midlife characters; really enjoyed that one. The fourth book in this series is due in August and I can’t wait.
A completely different series is Arisen by Glynn James and Michael Stephens Fuchs, which has fourteen books plus spin-offs. This is pure military science fiction, with a lot of bang bang action, always building to the next crisis. The plot follows different characters in different parts of the world but keeps everything tied together. There are a few romantic elements, which were handled well overall, I thought, considering the primary focus is on the special forces and other military teams battling the zombies. (I did have a quibble, as a romance author, about one MMC literally going from contemplating the gallant passing of his love interest in the last hour or so, to meeting the person who will obviously be his new FMC. Take a breath, dude.) These books were so intense that I literally could only read so much in any one day. Usually I binge read an entire series in short order but I couldn’t withstand the pace here. Lots of military jargon and weapon descriptions. Really excellent.
I got so invested in Adrienne Lecter’s Green Fields series that I actually joined her Patreon (the only one I ever joined) to get my hands on the bonus materials, many of which are now available in anthologies. I really liked and cared about the FMC and her romance with the MMC was satisfying, intense and had a lot of twists and turns. The FMC starts as a nerdy scientist and becomes fierce as the series goes on and this is definitely one where terrible things happen but by the time they do the reader is so deep into it and cares so much for the characters, you can roll with it. There are twelve books plus additional short stories and other material. Oddly enough, I couldn’t get into her next zombie series World of Anthrax but that’s a ‘me problem’, not the author’s.
I can’t say enough good things about The Broken World Series by Kate L. Mary. There are eight books plus spin-offs (one of which addresses the unsatisfactory-to-me ending of an important character in the last book – apparently there’s more to it and there are sequels). Another FMC who starts out on the naïve side but grows and toughens into a warrior. The series covers quite a time span and there’s a lot of character growth, plus the central romance was satisfying. There were some unexpected adventures in this one, which I appreciated as most zombie series tend to follow a fairly similar arc.
I’ll finish with the Pandora Strain Trilogy by Dee J. Holmes, which took several major zombie tropes and turned them on their heads. I ripped right through the three books with great enjoyment. The heroine is extremely capable right from the start and there’s a Great Dane who is a major character in his own right. The romance was prominent and well handled. Even her titles are different, starting with Three Days in Undead Shoes.
I’ll add one more I read recently, the Kick at the Darkness series by Keira Andrews. This one has a M/M romance at the center of the story and by the end of the three book series I really wished there were more books and spinoffs set in the same world. The twist here is that werewolves also exist and do they ever cut a swath through the zombies. One of the main human characters is pretty inrritating in the beginning but as his character arc unfolded, I got really fond of him.
There are many other zombie series with and without romance but as always I’m out of time. Happy reading!