It’s taken Cirque Du Freak author Darren Shan quite a while to hop on the zombie bandwagon, but now that he has he’s whipped the horses pulling it along into a furious gallop, carrying a standard as he goes.
Dealing in some decidedly edgy material, Zom-B is a book that’ll make young readers think as well as making them gag. The real monster of the piece is the father of its teenage protagonist, B: a wife-beater and a proud, card-carrying racist. The shaven-headed B rejects his views, but this conflicted kid (who simultaneously hates and loves their dad) is also a bully who’s spent so long pretending to agree with them that the mask is starting to stick.
It’s often a troubling read, as we’re asked to empathise with a character who engages in racial bullying (including taunting a black schoolmate by making gorilla-like grunting noises) – and, ultimately, much worse. A battle is going on for B’s soul, and although a righteous speech by a black teacher and a school trip to a Holocaust exhibition make it crystal clear which side the author is on (indeed, one suspects Darren Shan may have just earned himself the badge of honour of a place on a Neo-Nazi shitlist), there’s absolutely no guarantee that the right side will win.
With its kids who smoke, shoplift and talk of “copping a feel”, Zom-B almost makes the existing Young Adult zombie series, Charles Higson’s The Enemy , look like the Blue Peter to its Grange Hill , even though Higson’s books are pretty damn ruthless themselves. The zombies are an off-stage presence for most of the duration, but you’ll forgive that come the finale, a furiously-paced bloodbath (Shan’s undead are the running variety) which takes place at B’s school; kids will no doubt relish imagining their own teachers munching on one another’s brains.
The first in a series of – good grief - 12 parts, it’s a lean, punchy tale, told in the first person, with a shock ending, a mystery that’ll keep you hooked until the next book arrives in January (who or what are the weird, hooded figures who seem to be controlling events?) and a brilliant secondary twist that’ll have you kicking yourself for being taken in…
Ian Berriman twitter.com/ianberriman