Synopsis: Unexplainablenews.com is reporting strange phenomena in cemeteries in Scotland, Germany, Italy, and America. Only one individual knows what’s happening–and why! This person also knows the one girl who can prevent an unspeakable and imminent catastrophe from taking place. But will she? When Caitlin Fletcher’s mom disappeared (or left?) Four years ago, Caitlin began suffering from breathless bouts of anxiety. Her new move to London, with her Dad and brainiac sister, threatens to lead to more situations that will trigger panic. Now she’s having anxiety over the possibility of having anxiety! Caitlin’s life takes a turn for the bizarre when she’s tricked into climbing down a “rabbit hole”, landing in a wondrous fairy tale universe–except it’s crawling with savage, starving, blood-eyed zombies. But what’s scarier – a blood thirsty zombie, a panic attack…or the painful truth?
When I first saw Once Upon a Zombie offered on NetGalley, I thought I had died and gone to heaven! I mean what could be better than some of the most beloved fairytale characters being turned into zombies? Well, as it turns out, not much. Billy Phillips has created a positively perfect mash-up of horror and fantasy, while at the same time, sending an important message which should resonate with it’s readers.
With all these Zombie Princesses like Rapunzel, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White around, it would have been easy for the character of fourteen-year-old Caitlin to get lost amidst all those strong personalities. While she’s always been anxious, since her mother’s disappearance four years ago, her anxiety has increased exponentially. When we first meet her she’s literally hyperventilating over the idea of attending a school dance. This beginning is the weakest part of the story as it deals with your typical high school drama, without adding anything new. However, once Caitlin and her younger sister Natalie slide down the rabbit hole, well, that’s when the incredible world-building begins, and the adventure takes off.
Caitlin and the precocious Natalie are the perfect team. Where Caitlin is timid and overthinks things, Natalie is impulsive and adventurous. Their personalities perfectly balance each other. The Zombie Princesses led by the strong and determined Rapunzel, are a wonderful and funny supporting cast. Sleeping Beauty keeps having to take naps, although these wind up being quite useful as she has visions during them. Snow White is the one with the truly kind and generous heart, even when it comes to saving a zombie Big Bad Wolf. And finally Cinderella who interjects some of the funniest lines due to her voracious appetite. In smaller roles are such iconic figures as Belle, The Little Mermaid and of course Alice, and I’m hoping we’ll see more of them in subsequent books.
There’s a nice little romance between Caitlin and one of her classmates, Jack. While he immediately jumps into danger to help Caitlin, he also appreciates her strengths, sometimes more than she does herself. He’s a sweet, supportive and caring guy with a secret of his own, and will have many tween girls sighing over him.
While all these elements plus a thoroughly entertaining plot make for a truly enjoyable read, what I loved the most about this book was how it addresses the concept of fear. You see, this is the core of the story. The different types of fear and which are beneficial, and which wind up crippling us. It’s brilliantly written as the central theme without taking away from the story itself.
While I first received the ebook from NetGalley, I also wound up with the print version from the publisher. I was originally planning on donating it to my library, but I wound up loving it so much I don’t know if I can part with it.
And let me tell you, the cover is absolutely exquisite and seeing it on your computer or e-reader doesn’t do it justice. It has equally beautiful artwork on the inside flap and the back cover. In fact, if you’re going to buy it I’d recommend purchasing the hardcover. While I’d say it’s written primarily for a tween audience, Once Upon a Zombie will appeal to all audiences with it’s exciting plot and unforgettable characters. It’s the first book in what will be a trilogy and I’m excited to see what happens in the next book.