Adventures With Words | 31 July 2012 | Kate Neilan

Can you love a bullying, racist thug if he’s your father?
 

Can you love a bullying, racist thug if he’s your father?
 

Where do you hide when killer babies invade your dreams?
 

How do you react when confronted with your darkest inner demons?
 

B Smith is about to find out!

 

So says the blurb on the back of the advance copy of Zom-B, Darren Shan’s new YA Horror thriller. I was interested to see how Shan, who normally deals more in the magical/fantasy type monsters, would deal with his first big foray into the world of teen zombies. This is a subgenre that’s really expanding at the moment, on the back of a number of popular films - the rebooted Dawn of the Dead, 28 Days Later, 28 Weeks Later, the ‘zomromcom’ Shaun of the Dead - and of course Charlie Higson’s bestselling The Enemy series. However, Higson’s terrifying books have set the bar very high, so the question for me was, would this match up?

 

Sadly, I wasn’t a big fan of this book. My main issue is with the structure of the plot. The way in which the book is ‘sold’ is as a zombie-horror. However, other than in the prologue, that’s exactly what the story is very light on! In fact, the majority of the plot is taken up with the relation between B and dad Todd, a rightwing activist. The story seemed to take a very long time to get going; I felt like the whole thing was really the exposition of something much longer. This is the first book in a series - apparently planned to consist of twelve parts - but I feel it’s not really treating your readers well to leave so much to a second installment. That being said, there are some fun twists which I really didn’t see coming at the end of the book, although they felt perhaps more like cliffhangers to set up the next book than revelations in their own right.

 

I do think this book suffered in comparison to Higson’s zombie trilogy (soon to be quartet). I didn’t find the dialogue as naturalistic, there were inaccuracies in regard to the school settings and, while the time spent getting the reader to sympathise with the character of B was generally well-spent, there was little enough for us to admire and quite a lot that was still off-putting. I’m also unsure as to whether it was necessary to spend so much time on B’s family here, even if Todd is a ‘interesting’ character. It seemed that the book couldn’t decide whether it was a teen family drama or a horror/thriller; if Shan wants this to stand with his Cirque du Freak series, he may need to up his game and resolve this confusion in book 2.

 

Despite my reservations, I expect this will be a very successful book for Darren Shan; he already has a massive fan base of dedicated readers who I’m sure will enjoy Zom-B. I’m not sure, however, if newcomers to Shan’s writing will enjoy this as much. I don’t think it’s really fair to sell the beginning of a story as a book in itself, and I’m not sure I’ll be rushing out to get the next installment when it’s published. Especially because the fourth book in Higson’s The Enemy series is coming soon…

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