The Bookbag | 19 September 2012 | Jill Murphy

Strange news reports are coming out of Ireland. YouTube is buzzing with clips of zombie infestations and the military clearing remote villages. This is all taken with a pinch of salt by B Smith, schoolfriends, teachers and parents. Most people think it's all a promotion campaign for a new film, but there are also scatterings of various conspiracy theories. None of it really impinges on B and pals though - they carry on with life regardless. There's hanging out in the park to be done, after all. Various peer group scores to settle. Fake IDs to find and attempts to buy alcohol. You get the picture. Some silly fake zombies barely register.


And B has more to deal with. Mr Smith is into politics. Not the kind of politics that lead to power, influence and a comfortable life for your family. The kind of politics that involve misusing the national flag, judging people by the colour of their skin, and doing everything you can to create conflict inside a multicultural community. B is quite uncomfortable with this but it's hard to say so. Everyone loves their father, no matter what they are, so "betraying" them by rejecting their entire life philosophy isn't that easy. And B's father is also a drunk and a bully. Any rebellion results in a clout around the ear, or worse - and B's mother is most often in the firing line. If B keeps schtum, Mum avoids the black eyes.


And a lifetime of brainwashing and bullying also takes a toll. B is known as a racist at school. B's anger and frustration may come from home, but it spills out within the peer group. B's behaviour is often ugly. And then, suddenly, everyone realises that the zombies are real...


... so the scene is set for Darren Shan's big new horror sequence. Those readers who slaver for gore and are new to Shan's work might feel a bit disappointed. Aside from a brief prologue, the zombie action doesn't start until three-quarters of the way through the book. The largest part deals with B and explores the racism issue in a great deal of depth. How can someone from an extreme racist home grow up to be anything other than a racist? How far can a child from such a home be pushed before they find the courage to break free?


This won't be what readers are expecting. It wasn't what I was expecting! But when the horror begins, it's as violent, remorseless and nihilistic as Shan's fans have come to expect. He's not afraid to kill off interesting characters. He's not all about the light vanquishing the dark by the final page. He's all about continuing to fight even though it is - not might be - hopeless. If you are a follower of Mr Shan, you will know he has spent almost a book setting a scene for a reason and, even if issue-based stories bore the pants off you, you will know it'll be worth it for what comes next. It'll be cruel and doom-laden, gory and exciting, and it'll take you to entirely unexpected places. I'd bet my Kindle on it. So if you are coming fresh to this author, and want more schlock, stick with it. It'll be worth it.


There are two very big twists at the end of this book. We reviewers have been asked not to reveal them and I've done my best not to even hint at either here. This has made it exceedingly tricky to review Zom-B. But I've done my best!

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