A review of Darren Shan’s “ZOM-B City”

Warning!  If you have not read previous Zom-B instalments read no further, as will contain an epic spoiler!

Escaping an underground research centre, B finds herself in a desolate city-scape full of monsters and the lost, both human and dead.

She encounters a group of survivalist humans who have turned the apocalypse into a zombie hunting game, a deranged painter working on undead and dead still life, and an alien worshipping cult.  Hearing that the army is staging a rescue, she heads to the landing point, where even further, horrors await.

Mr Dowling, Kinslow, Owl-Man and the mutant hoodie horde reappear, but as yet we don’t learn anything about exactly what they are or their role in the zombie uprising, only that they have control of the un-dead.  It’s this deepening mystery that hooks you in for further instalments, as well as the fast paced, engaging writing.  Long standing horror fans will have fun spotting the genre references (Daren Shan makes some of these explicit in his afterword), which here focus on a ruined, post-apocalyptic city-scape.

There’s a continuing tension as to which side of her nature B will follow, human or monster, as she faces different characters, provocations and situations.  B is compelled, in her hunt for redemption, to be, as a monster, a better human than she used to be. But Shan does not always allow this side to win out.  And the monsters frequently win, slaughtering the innocent, brutally dispatching the rescuer.  It’s this unpredictability that largely accounts for these stories page-turning quality.

There’s a neat bonus short story at the end of this edition as well.

Enjoy!

I Zombie: A review of Darren Shan’s “ZOM-B Underground”

 

WARNING: This review provides a big spoiler to the first book in the sires, ZOM-B. If you are new to the series, and want to get a buzz from a great rug-pull moment, please read no further

ZOM-B Underground continues the saga of B Smith, stripped of her humanity in more ways than one. In battling inhuman forces of the un-dead, Becky Smith succumbs to an inhuman force within, after the promptings of her vile racist father lead her to commit an atrocity against the living. In another neat double meaning, Becky loses her heart twice over: morally, and physically, as she has it ripped from her chest in act of sick justice, by the reanimated monster of the boy she murdered.

Now Becky must find some kind of redemption, whilst coming to terms with the shocking truth that she is a walking, talking, thinking member of the un-dead.

‘Underground’ starts with a feeling of disorientation as Becky finds herself in an underground complex, full of scientists and soldiers engaged in researching the cause of the recent zombie attacks. The humans have discovered a strain of zombie that has consciousness and higher cognitive functions. Becky is one of these. The humans also conduct their research by pitting the thinking zombies (Revitaliseds) against the more brain dead counterparts (Reviveds) to see how they will react whilst being attacked. In one of the books most striking scenes, the Revitaliseds, decked in leather (to protect from bites) and helmets, are set on the Reviveds with flamethrowers and chainsaws. It’s got the visceral intensity of Romero at his best, as do a lot of scenes in the book.

Becky gets to know the Revitaliseds as a group of teenagers who have personalities largely intact, and are apparently able to play along with the scientists in exchange for a comfy hang- out room and food (don’t ask).

Becky’s desperately tries to hang onto her humanity and indeed improve it, whilst being in the shell of a monster. Will she play along with the human’s bizarre zombie culling experiments? Will she protect humanity when opportunities arise, or will she give in to hunger and instead, feast? This is the meat of the drama, and the brains behind the plot.

As usual with Shan, you’ll be hard pressed to turn the pages fast enough in this tightly written, speedy and economic narrative. The action is told with gusto and gore that won’t disappoint the most voracious zombie addicts. He does not cop out from letting some situations play out to their awful logical conclusion, rather than springing a miraculous way out. Good characters do die horribly, but there is usually a horrible, satisfying act of justice as a consequence. The writer deepens the back-story behind his zombie outbreak and provides plenty of hooks to pull you into the next instalment. Who’s the sinister horror clown Mr Dowling? Who and what are the mutants? Who or what is responsible for the out-break? It’s straight on to ZOM-B City to find out more.

The Zombies are coming to town: a review of Darren Shan’s “ZOM-B Circus.”

Fans of the series will snap up with relish this biting little short in the Zom- B series.

Written with Shan’s vivid and fast paced prose, the strong gore that would give horror maestro’s like James Herbert a run for the money, and shocking comeuppances for some of the protagonists that show a bleak, pitiless, remorselessly logical justice, this works if you are new to the series or Shan or already a fan. I hadn’t read Shan before, but on the strength of this I went on to read ‘Zom-B.’

So as a new Shan reader I must admit to being rug-pulled. At first I thought he was just going to be really tiresome in saying the same thing; that in extreme situations such as an un-dead apocalypse, you may have to throw your usual moral code out of the window. The protagonist, Kat, throws some terrified school girls into the path of some zombies to escape. Because that’s how you survive. We are told this repeatedly, and Kat does this repeatedly. But Kat is taught a terrible lesson. The zombies, and their mutant masters, are a few steps ahead of her…

Shan does have a responsibility to younger readers, and there is a moral logic display here, but it is deftly woven into the fabric of the story and presented as a twist.

The zombies with their bone talons and extended teeth are effective creations, as are their mysterious mutant masters. As a newbie to the series, I look forward to finding out more about them. The ring master mutant is a wonderfully grotesque creation, and the football stadium circus is a gleeful, nightmarish setting.

All in all this is what a short like this should do; tell a punchy story well, and make you want to delve further into the series. This it certainly did for me.

A review of Darren Shan’s “Zom-B”

Darren Shan is well known for his horror stories for the teenage /young adult reader. Zom-B is the first of a series; a story arc that Shan himself estimates in an Author’s Note will weigh in at 10-15 books.
There was nothing like this when I was at school. As a 4th / 5th former I used to hunt down the novels of adult horror writers such as James Herbert. Shan delivers gore and shocks that would put many of these more ‘grown-up’ books to shame. This is nothing like the ‘Goose-bump’ series. Shan’s books are stronger and darker fare.
The story starts with a pretty tough set of scenes in an Irish village, where a boy sees his Mum turned into a Zombie, devouring his Dad’s brains. He runs out to find the Streets full of carnage, and a tall grotesque stranger seemingly standing aloof and in control…
Cut to London teenager B-Smith. Dad’s a racist and a bully and gives crash courses in domestic violence. B is an angry bitter kid who in turn bullies and lashes out, and mimics Dad’s racist attitudes. School is a battleground, but B is strong enough to be pretty much leader of a gang there.
Internally B finds battle-grounds as well; haunted by terrifying dreams,
a teacher and a black friend are able to find cracks in the armour. B and friends hear reports of the Irish Zombie attack and presume it’s a hoax, and it’s distant enough not to seem too real. But then B encounters sinister mutant ‘hoodies’ in the London streets, and finds a tall, grotesque stranger (see above) visiting Dad, and then the Zombies attack…
Shan knows how to build a story, how to structure it and keep it moving. There’s vividness to his writing, and the Zombie action is as satisfying and full on as you would find in a Romero film. And like Romero, Shan uses the un-dead to hold a mirror to our society in all its greedy, predatory hate filled splendour. His zombie creatures with their grotesque whistle blowing masters, and their bone-talons, are effective creations. His story follows a remorseless logic and bleak morality. Here consequences to bad actions bite, in more ways than one…
Although writing for younger readers, there is no patronising or talking down to here. No palming the young reader off with very mild scares. Shan knows that his readers will have seen enough of the world to be puzzled, repelled, and sometimes attracted to evil and dark things. He has responsibilities writing to a younger crowd, but he does not do this by finger-wagging, but by context, and consequence.
Part of the fun of this series will be seeing how some of the threads will be picked up and played out later. Who are the mutants? Who is the ‘tall man?’ I can’t wait to find out.