Beyond the Night. By Joss Ware. Avon. $7.99.
Green. By Laura Peyton Roberts. Delacorte Press. $16.99.
The thing about zombies is that there is just no way to make them romantic. All that shambling, brain-sucking, mentally vacant, limbs-falling-off lurching about just isn’t attractive in any way, shape, or form. Not that vampires – which zombies are in the process of supplanting in popular literature – were always particularly erotic. John Polidori’s The Vampyre has a much more brutal and less attractive title character than does Bram Stoker’s later Dracula. But ever since Stoker – who brought a frisson of suppressed eroticism to vampire lore – there has been something steamy, implied or overt, about bloodsuckers. Now, though, they seem to be fading from overexposure – not to sunlight but to the popular imagination. And zombies are in the ascendant. But they are just so unpleasant. So writers such as Joss Ware have to figure out how to create zombie-populated paranormal tales – in Ware’s case, a paranormal romance – without grossing out all would-be readers. Ware’s solution is simple enough: include zombies in her book, but not as its central focus, and let the romance flower between zombie killers rather than among the undead themselves. Good plan. But in implementing it in Beyond the Night, Ware goes a bit overboard. This is one of those books in which the author throws out all the plot elements she can think up in the hope that some of them will stick. So we have immortality; a mysterious 50-year sleep; the end of the world as we know it; evildoers keeping women as slaves; unexplained development of supernatural powers; Nevada ending up on the Pacific coast after California’s disappearance beneath the waves; a fight with a huge snake; a “with great power comes great responsibility” theme; and of course – this being a romance – a couple of damaged-goods people who are nevertheless extraordinarily attractive and destined eventually to confront their pasts, to couple and to become a couple. A lot of Ware’s writing is straight out of romance-genre cliché: “She sounded like sex and promises.” A lot of her plot points are, too: somehow, even after utter worldwide disaster and the near-destruction of the human race, the one-man-one-woman model has remained a glorious ideal. Nevertheless, if you do not take Beyond the Night too seriously – and it sometimes seems not to take itself too seriously – it is fun to read, not so much to find out why the world was destroyed, who the immortal Strangers are or just when Elliott and Jade will give in to their desires (“raging hormones under control,” Ware writes at one point), but to figure out what’s going on with the ganga (this book’s zombies) and how Ware is going to pull all her themes together. Readers won’t actually find everything out in Beyond the Night – two follow-ups are in the works – but this book is still a heady thrill ride if you can ignore its frequently earnest silliness.
On the whole, leprechauns are easier to enjoy than zombies, which may be why Green – which is intended for girls ages 10 and up rather than for adults – makes the little people its supernatural focus. Laura Peyton Roberts’ heroine, Lily, has just turned 13 when she meets the leprechauns rather explosively (a birthday gift actually blows up shortly before three leprechauns appear in her bedroom). These wee folk are certainly not as scary as, say, zombies, but they are not entirely benign, either: “You guys are mean, and you made me miss my party.” That’s not the worst of things, though, after Lily is taken to the leprechauns’ world – where she, following in the footsteps of her grandmother, is due to be put in charge of all the gold of the Clan of Green. For Lily must pass three tests to prove herself worthy to be the clan’s “keeper” – and if she fails, she may never see her home again. Lily herself has leprechaun blood – the result of some leprechauns’ wish that went awry “hundreds o’ years ago…during a Rendezvous” – and that explains why both Lily and her grandmother before her are connected to the Clan of Green. Indeed, early in her adventures, Lily finds a note from her grandmother, filled with the sort of typically unhelpful advice that protagonists of tales like this always seem to get: “The only way back is forward. Be what you’d become.” And so forth. Of course, also as usual in stories like this, the advice turns out to be just what Lily needs – including the apparently irrelevant comment that leprechauns don’t swim. Indeed, Lily learns several surprising things about leprechauns, including that “scarce one or two of us in a generation is born with the [magic] touch,” but that the wee folk are mighty good cobblers. She also learns about creatures called piskies and their “wild magic,” and about the dangers of a “clover swear,” and (of course) about her own inner strength – and she gets to take luck with her when she eventually comes through all her trials. Furthermore, she finds out that “the desire to possess [gold] wasn’t about need,” and that knowledge gives her a most satisfying final act before she returns to the world of humans. Green is never too serious, never too threatening, but is not quite a romp, either – it is often so frothy that it is barely there, but it ends up as a nice bit of light entertainment for preteens wanting a temporary escape from humdrum daily life.