To fully appreciate a book such as SHAKESPEARE UNDEAD, one needs to have a warped sense of humor and a high tolerance for obvious and sometimes bad jokes. If you're willing, then you're in for a treat. While many of these re-imaginings have just added fantastical and horrid beasts to perfectly good novels, (think PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES), this one adds a new twist by re-thinking the life of William Shakespeare and how he truly did write all of those plays. Yes, readers, Shakespeare is a vampire with a memory longer than his teeth.
Will is not only a vampire, but a vampire that can, and does, talk to ghosts. A necro-vampire if you will. He manages to hide this odd but sometimes inspiring sixth sense by claiming it as a habit of the writer that he is. Will talks out loud to these apparitions but pretends to be rehearsing and trying out lines for poems and plays. In most cases, his excuse works and people leave him to his musings. And these ghosts that keep appearing all want one thing from him --- to have William Shakespeare, the greatest writer of his time, tell their former life stories. Will does his best to tell all their tales, some becoming rather popular plays --- The Two Gentlemen of Verona, for instance --- but with all the zombies roaming London and suspiciously attacking him, writing becomes difficult, not to mention the writing slump he seems to have backed himself into.
One night while hunting down one of the newly risen, he almost manages to get his head lopped off by someone he thinks is a young boy. This rather small but very strong boy actually turns out to be the woman of his dreams. When he recovers from the deep neck wound she accidentally inflicted when she thought him a zombie, he tracks her down and it quickly turns into a scene right out of Romeo and Juliet. Doing his best impression of a human, which includes breathing that he doesn't need to do with his being dead and all, Will courts Kate with beautiful words and she falls not only for his words but for him. Their affair (Kate's husband is due to return any day from the Colonies) is fierce and all-consuming for the two. It has also become a rather prolific writing time for Will, who begins filling pages again like the fiend he is with Kate as his new muse. His own Dark Lady in the flesh.
Sonnets flow, plays spring forth, and for a short time his dark world becomes blissful, with the exception of the zombies that keep popping up when Will least expects them. Kate, a trained zombie hunter, is right there with her new love dusting zombies and dreading the day her ruthless and loveless husband will return. When another necro-vampire appears in London, it pretty much becomes Will and Kate to the rescue.
Yes, there are a lot of Shakespearean references, even a few modern ones that elicited a laugh-out-loud response from this reader, but it's done in such a way that fits. In fact, these little references make it even more fun to read as I found myself trying to place the lines. The Romeo and Juliet backdrop --- yes, Will and Kate play the star-crossed lovers complete with balconies and nurses --- adds a little pause for reminiscing about the original. And somewhere along the way, it becomes a fun, lively and immensely entertaining read. SHAKESESPEARE UNDEAD hits a good note.
You need to drop all seriousness, slap on a smile, and enjoy the book for what it is --- a fun romp full of vampires, zombies, and a love story that becomes the stuff poems are made of. At least a poem that includes zombies and swords. No, you won't feel smarter after reading this book, but you will laugh. Sometimes there's nothing better than a good laugh.
Reviewed by Amy Gwiazdowski on January 24, 2011