After the author's impressive debut novel, DYING TO LIVE, I couldn't wait to get my hands on its sequel (but was prevented from getting to it sooner due to my ever expanding TBR pile).
LIFE SENTENCE picks up 12 years after the events of DTL. This time our survivors have cleared and fenced themselves into a large area just outside of a major city. The groups' spiritual leader, Milton, continues to use his supernatural gift to horde the undead into holding bins; the aggressive ones go to one area, the seemingly less aggressive to another. When Milton's protégé, Will, notices two zombies in the latter area behaving almost like "normal" humans, he soon befriends them.
Most of the novel is told from one of the intelligent zombies' viewpoint (we discover his name is Wade Truman, a former college professor who is slowly trying to remember his past life, and whose notes we're now reading). He meets an undead woman named Lucy, and together they spend their days and nights writing, reading, and playing the violin (but trust me . . . this isn't funny or cheesy in the least; Paffenroth truly develops his zombies as much as his human characters).
The second storyline the novel follows is Zoey, a teenage outcast who agrees to take her "vows" to the community. She's as deadly with a gun as she is with her wit, and eventually Will and her situations meet for a finale that's exciting, scary, and best of all, a HUGE cut above your standard zombie fare.
Paffenroth continues to explore zombies from a philosophical angle, this time bringing out the humanity of his two intelligent monsters: neither of them want to eat the living, despite it being a newfound instinct. The self-control displayed by Wade could have been a quick rip-off of "Bub" from Romero's DAY OF THE DEAD, but being this is a novel, we get to see what's going on inside this unique zombies' mind, and its more caring and understanding than most of the human survivors. (Speaking of DAY, there's one group of sleaze balls who try to ruin the party before human and zombie team up to stop them; their leader's name is Rhodes, which I'm sure is in tribute to Romero).
My only gripe is I wanted to see more of the work done by Milton, who was the driving force behind the first novel. Hopefully, if Paffenroth returns with another DYING TO LIVE, he'll go there.
Any horror fan will enjoy LIFE SENTENCE, especially those with a thing for zombies. The author's unique perspective on a post-apocalyptic, undead world puts this--like its predecessor--in its own league.