You know that feeling when you find a book that’s funny as hell but also moving and thought provoking at the same time? Well, this one ticks all the right boxes. What am I talking about, you ask? Here’s my honest review of Better Off Dead by Martin John.
Let me show you the cover and the blurb.
In the near future, zombies are a reality, created by a sinister organization that sells them to the U.S. Military. With near-human intelligence, they wake to find themselves in a world where they are treated as assets with no rights or freedoms.
When mercenaries storm the Chinese Embassy in Washington D.C., Marco and an undead squad are sent to save the day. What starts as a simple mission turns complicated when they learn that one hostage holds the fate of all zombies in her hands.
Marco finds himself facing enemies on both sides and must choose to protect his own kind or do what’s right.
Not only the cover is a beauty, but it also fits the story perfectly. Here we have the main character, Marco, holding a rifle and looking all out of place, just like he feels in his… Unlife? Undeath? Anyway, when I got the ARC from the author I was sold by the humor in both the drawing and the comments in cursive; this is the kind of book I would buy in a heartbeat.
The thing that fascinated me the most is how much effort went into creating a new lore for zombies. It works, it’s interesting and what’s worse is that I can see it happening in real life. It felt believable enough that, once it was introduced, I was able to suspend my disbelief without further questions. The first chapter starts in the middle of the action, with Marco about to jump from a helicopter. It left me in need for answers, and the next few chapters, where he explains how he ended up there, gave me enough context to be curious about him and his fate.
Since we’re at it, let me tell you how much I love Marco’s voice. The author has an incredible writing style —funny, sarcastic and entertaining at the same time—, and he was able to build a main character that anyone would love despite, and maybe because of, his uncountable flaws. Truth is, Marco is not the sharpest tool in the shed and his military skills are somewhat lacking, but his heart is in the right place (metaphorically of course, since his inner organs were removed after he died) and he is self-aware enough to remain selfless: he always makes the most humane choice, often putting himself in danger because of it.
He is adorable, and so are his friends, a bunch of diverse and not always politically correct people. Despite everything, they are dreamers. Despite everything, they hope. Despite everything, they care. And don’t get me started on the unusual pet Marco adopts, because the whole idea is both repulsive and incredibly cool.
You might have noticed a theme: there are lots of contradictions in this novel, which is a beautiful thing if you ask me. I love that I was laughing one moment and willing to found a Society for the Promotion of Zombie Welfare the next, or that I was chuckling on one page and sobbing while reading what came after. This book is bittersweet in ways that I wasn’t expecting when I decided to read it. I loved it a lot and I can’t wait for the sequel to come out. I need to know if Marco will ever gain his freedom. And revenge.
A great read if you like dark humor and zombie stories, and truly close to my idea of literary perfection. A special mention goes to the pop culture references, ’cause you know how much I love those, and to music being used as torture (a whole generation of parents can confirm that Baby Shark is indeed painful to hear in repeat). I wish I could give it 5 stars but, because of some typos here and there, my final rating is 4.5/5 stars.