Twelve years before this book opens, an event called the “Unveiling” gave rise to the actual existence of witches, mages, werewolves, vampires and zombies in the world. They are called “arcane” by those who consider them real people with rights, and “supernaturals” by those who would like to see them destroyed.
Hunter Gamble is an attorney dedicated to representing the arcanes, inspired all his life by the example of Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird. His assistant, Kirsten Harper, is a dedicated but very shy researcher, with a genius for tracking down the precise case needed for precedent in any given situation. Together, they face down the Salvation Alliance, a group dedicated to getting rid of the “godless” and “evil” “supernaturals”, in order to defend innocent people whose only crime is being undead (or having magical powers). When Sam Pollard, a zombie who is an activist for arcane rights is accused of killing an old friend in the grip of the Hunger (a mindless compulsion to devour either human blood or brains that affects zombies and vampires), Hunter and Kirsten take his case. But can they beat back the forces of prejudice and hatred in time to save Sam’s life? And can Hunter cope with the tragedy that follows?
This book is unexpectedly powerful and disturbing in places, with some twists that come out of left field and punch the reader metaphorically in the gut. Atticus for the Undead does not shy away from controversy or pain, and it is not nearly as simplistically black and white in its morality as it appears to at first be. The hatred and prejudice facing arcanes is unkind and inhumane, but not absolutely without rationale, and one can see even the villains’ point of view at times – the Hunger is a truly frightening thing.
The main characters are all quirky, intelligent, and complicated personalities who seem to live and breathe on the page. Hunter’s idealism has real challenges to face, real obstacles which may leave him more jaded in the end than he began, but he also has courage and fire that will hopefully see him through later books. Kirsten’s courage and will develop throughout the novel, eventually overcoming her shyness, and the reader gets intensely fond of her as well, with unexpected consequences. Sabrina, their client-turned-secretary, develops quite believably with events from an arrogant spoiled brat to the lively, witty, charming young woman who was always underneath. Sam – well, he’s entirely lovable, and his situation can break the reader’s heart.
The ending, however, is rather startling, and dangles a clean resolution in front of the reader only to snatch it away in favor of a much greyer and more painful finale, with loose emotional ends that cry out for a sequel (luckily, this appears to be a whole developing series – there is material for it aplenty, certainly). The book can get a bit cutesy at times, despite the heart-wrenching and serious subject matter – did the author really need to name the teenage witch Sabrina?
Atticus for the Undead is an intriguing book, both politically relevant and well-written. The reader should be aware that it isn’t quite as safely predictable as they may think, and should be prepared to have the emotional wind knocked out of them.
Reviewed by Catherine Langrehr for IndieReader