SFX | 21 September 2012 | Ian Berriman

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…

 

4/5 stars

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