Monsters living and undead: A review of Darren Shan’s “ZOM-B Mission”

ZOM-B Mission is the seventh instalment in this series about the teenage B Smith, a “Revitalised,” an undead-human hybrid that mixes human intelligence with heightened abilities that being a zombie can bring, such as super strength, speed, agility and extended life (these aren’t Romero’s geriatric shufflers!), battling with her fellow revitalised “Angels” to restore order and goodness after an apocalypse of the undead.  The “Angels” are under the tutelage of a Dr Oystein, himself a Revitalised scientist from World War Two, and their overall mission is to confront the mysterious evil that seems to be orchestrating the zombie plague, whose figureheads are a gory and grotesque clown figure called Mr Dowling, and a pot- bellied silver-haired tall man in pin-stripes and overlarge eyes called “Owl Man.”

B must also battle her own inner demons; a racist and abusive father has left her a terrible legacy, and following her father she has committed an atrocity for which she now seeks redemption.

‘Mission’ has a pretty big shock early on, and I won’t spoil it, but it is very well done, and involves the demise of one of the series good guys.  The story then moves to a mission B and her fellow Angels undertake, to escort a band of human survivors to a human compound in the country, New Kirkham.  The compound, although well run, has some deep shadows of unease.  B is shocked to find her old demon Racism alive and well and finding a terrible new strength, and aligning with some old foes…

Shan is pretty adept and underwriting his fast paced and gory zombie stories, primarily for young adult readers but enjoyed by a much wider and older readership (including me), with some serious themes on human corruption and evil.  It was ever thus with this particular genre (as with Romero’s satirical swipes), but Shan is good and illustrating the insidiousness and creeping nature of such ills as racism, and how passivity is just as destructive as complicity.  Here that point is very well made, and we see humanity at its worst, passive in the face of evil or actively engaged in it, and heroically defiant.

I also enjoy the referencing to other zombie fare in these books.  So we have a reverent nod to one of the most chilling scenes in Danny Boyle’s “28 Days Later,” transmission of infection by a drop of zombie blood that falls from a bird, and the shadowy nature of human compounds of survivors that feature repeatedly in “The Walking Dead” franchise.  But this is different from being derivative.  Shan’s series, his mysterious demonic foes and zombie-human hybrids are very much his own.

A cracking read, then, and it’s good to see the series both develop its themes with this instalment, and take it in intense new directions.

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