She’s a preschool teacher. He’s kind of a zombie. It would never work.
Karen teaches post-apocalypse preschool, safe inside city walls. She never intended to get caught outside.
Leo is technically alive, but perpetually zoned out: Mindless. He can see emotions as colors now, though, so at least there’s that. Like the other Mindless, he feeds on the emotional energy of humans. Then he meets Karen – her unique energy jolts him partly awake, and he’s hooked. He protects her but when she’s rescued, he lands in a cage.
Karen wants to go home, but until then, she also wants to spy on her sketchy host, which brings her into contact with Leo. He’s recovering, and surprisingly sweet, and he’ll protect her in any way he can. She returns the favor, but this alliance can’t last; she’s leaving, and he’ll be killed for science.
Leo doesn’t expect her to even talk to him, much less help him. But she does – and that emotion she has when she looks at him? He doesn’t know what to call it, but it’s not fear.
Karen can go back to her life – if she abandons Leo. She can’t stay with him, she can’t take him home… but without her, he’s dead.
Zombies can be scary. Zombies can be deadly.
And as this book proves again, zombies can be cute. Not since Warm Bodies (the movie, I haven’t read the book) has there been a more adorable star-crossed zombie couple. While this story echoes some of the snark of Warm Bodies, it also stands alone as a solid entry into the “awww, zombies” category of speculative fiction–and does a very nice job of it. Whispers in the Dark is a sweet entry into paranormal romance genre with clever zombie world-building and an incredibly likable main couple.
Leo is one of the cutest monsters I’ve read. His gradual awakening is handled very well, and his protectiveness is believable. While a part of me would have liked more depth of personality (or even likes/dislikes, etc), he’s a reviving zombie, so I understand that it takes time. His core traits–protectiveness, kindness, and thoughtfulness–are a great foil for the protagonist Karen, who is focused on everyone but herself. And kudos Jernigan to showing how someone can be unhealthily focused on others WITHOUT being whiny or lame. Karen is a sharp cookie, and her inner monologues are believable and often funny.
As far as zombification, emotions, not brains, are the man attraction for humans. Without giving too much away, Jernigan reinvents the zombie mythology in an elegant way that allows her characters to shine and makes the story far lighter than it would have been otherwise.
Now, this story is so tightly-focused on the main characters that at times the description of the surroundings and other minor characters is a bit thin. Also, I’m a bit hungry for more world-building of the zombie process and since this is a one-off, what you read here is what you get. That being said, none of the aforementioned issues stopped me from devouring the book in a few sittings and being satisfied with the ending.
Note: there are faith elements, but they aren’t obtrusive or preachy.
Final Verdict: Whispers in the Dark is a cute zombie story with a sweet heart. Call this one a chocolate molten lava cake with strawberries and cream.