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.


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