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.