Review: Zom-B / Author: Darren Shan / Publisher: Simon and Shuster / Release Date: Out Now
‘Master of horror’ Darren Shan, multi-million selling author of young adult fantasies such as the Cirque du Freak saga and… er… adult adult books like Procession of the Dead and City of the Snakes turns his attention to the reliable old zombie apocalypse for his latest attempt to terrify the bejeesus out of his more youthful audience. Zom-B is the first in a twelve-part book serial in which the undead do their thing the way only they know how. It’s good to see fantasy fiction for kids in robust health but Zom-B is worlds away from the cozy world of Harry Potter and his hokey spells, pet owls and Quidditch matches; this is a tough, grim and sometimes rather unpleasant book set in a very real and sometimes uncomfortably ugly modern Britain with nary a muggle nor a broomstick in sight.
B. Smith is a bully and a racist, hanging around street corners and robbing local shops, terrorising younger kids and wasting time until school’s out and the opportunity arises to pick on someone else - usually someone with a different coloured skin. Home life’s no better; Dad’s a short-tempered, racist wife-beater who sometimes keeps strange company - a mysterious big-eyed pot-bellied man’s deep in conversation with dad when B comes home from school one afternoon - and although B senses that something’s not right and maybe Dad isn’t the ideal role model, the need to keep the family unit together and prevent Mum from being beaten black-and blue means that B has to toe the line just to keep Dad at bay. Shan’s no-nonsense real-world story is engrossing enough and we’re torn between feeling repelled by B for following in Dad’s grotesque footsteps and hoping that, somehow, there’ll be some sort of redemption and that the tables will turn. The zombie outbreak which has been bubbling away in the background suddenly erupts into carnage and chaos as B’s school comes under attack and B has to work together with friends and former enemies to fight impossible odds and find a way out of a building which has suddenly become a blood-drenched prison.
Zom-B is a bleak and unrelenting contemporary urban horror story for older kids, touching on issues which some adults might find challenging and disturbing. In some ways the zombie violence, when it comes - and it’s as graphic as anything in an adult zombie novel - is a relief from the downbeat mirror-to-the-modern world no-nonsense tone of the first half of the book. The book’s title might give away one of its secrets (and I’ve been careful not to blow another major one here) but there’s plenty of stuff seeded throughout the novel to keep kids of a less nervous disposition coming back for the next instalment in what promises to be a long and bloody journey.
Back in my day it was all Just William and Jennings and Darbishire. It’s another world.