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6 Novels That Prove The Dead Don’t Always Stay That Way

Written By Rachael Conrad

Rachael Conrad is an award-winning indie bookseller with over a decade of experience in the industry. When she's not reading or writing Rachael can often be found exploring the woods and tide pools of Maine and discussing who the best Chris is (it's Pine, obviously). Her writing can be found in Tor/Reactor, Polygon, and Kirkus Reviews."

Any fan of a post apocalyptic horror story knows that the dead don’t always stay that way. 

By definition, a zombie is a corpse that is said to have been revived by witchcraft, particularly in relation to the practice of voodoo. In modern media they are more often the product of a catastrophic scientific accident or a rapidly spreading virus than anything else. The result is a rotting creature with an insatiable hunger for human flesh or, more specifically, brains that might have once resembled a human being. 

They go by many names; runners, bloaters, walkers, infected, and stalkers just to name a few and are all, whether fast or slow, absolutely terrifying no matter what media they appear in. 

The following six books contain a vast variety of the undead, and are all worth checking out. 

The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead by Max Brooks 

Who better to write a truly extensive how-to manual on surviving a zombie apocalypse than Max Brooks, the man who brought us World War Z, one of the most iconic books about the undead of all time (and eventual inspiration for an intensely polarizing movie of the same name). 

From shambling undead to fast-moving infected, The Zombie Survival Guide covers just about every situation imaginable in the event of an outbreak. Brooks guides readers through evasion tactics, how to arm yourself, and how to organize your home until help (hopefully) arrives. Though satirical in nature and laugh out loud funny, it’s obvious that Brooks spent time genuinely pondering what would happen if we had to deal with the undead, and the result is positively delightful. 

The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey

The Last of Us isn’t the only tale of a zombie apocalypse that will tug at your heartstrings that features cordyceps taking over human minds and a very special young girl. 

The aforementioned special girl is Melanie, who spends most of her days strapped to a wheelchair while an army sergeant points a gun at her. This is because Melanie is, for all intents and purposes, a zombie. But unlike most undead, Melanie has retained her brain function and can still communicate as if she were alive. When disaster strikes the base where she is being kept, Melanie and her school teacher, Miss Justineau, are forced to go on the run across an uncharted and zombie infested countryside. 

Between Two Fires by Christopher Buehlman 

Very rarely do we get zombie stories that are set during a time that isn’t present day. Christopher Buehlman’s historical fantasy horror novel, Between Two Fires, scratches that itch. 

Set during the dark ages in the year 1348, Between Two Fires tells the story of Thomas, a former knight who finds a young girl amidst the ruins of a Norman village. Orphaned and alone, she also appears to be the only person who hasn’t succumbed to the Black Death. When the girl tells Thomas of an impending cataclysm that could destroy the world as they know it, he agrees to shepherd her across a ravaged countryside, facing the undead and angels and demons alike along the way. 

What Moves the Dead (Sworn Soldier #1) by T. Kingfisher 

Inspired by Edgar Allen Poe’s beloved gothic short story, “The Fall of the House of Usher,” What Moves the Dead is a fresh and eerie take on an old classic that will have readers on the edge of their seats (and looking at rabbits a little differently) the entire time. 

When Alex Easton receives word that their childhood friend, Madeline Usher, is dying they decide to visit her one last time at her rapidly decaying, ancestral home. But the house itself and Madeline’s condition might be the least of their worries as they face rapidly encroaching fungi that seems to have a mind of its own and undead wildlife. 

Zone One by Colson Whitehead 

Before writing his emotionally devastating novel, The Nickel Boys, or his spectacular, action-packed heist novels, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Colson Whitehead wrote a satirical post-apocalyptic book about zombies called Zone One

In the world of Zone One, humanity has been sorted into two groups, the living and the dead, and now that the plague is finally dwindling (and the more violent undead with it), society has been forced to figure out what to do with those who are left behind. Mark Spitz is one of many who have been tasked with removing the much less violent zombies that now remain. The story itself switches between Mark’s survival during the height of the zombie outbreak and his now mundane existence as he helps to prepare New York City for its return to normalcy in the wake of disaster. 

Feed by Mira Grant

Imagine a world in which humans have not only cured cancer, but virtually eliminated every known virus spreading from person to person. There’s a price, of course, and in Mira Grant’s novel, Feed, it’s zombies. The very thing used to block the viruses causing humans to get sick is now taking control of bodies and minds, urging them to feed. Twenty years have passed since the Rising, and it has fallen to two bloggers to try and get to the bottom of what exactly caused the dead to return once more.