The Telegraph | 28 September 2012 | Martin Chilton

Darren Shan's ambitious new 12-book series, which will run until 2015 and see a new book published every three months, gets off to a cracking start with the opening book, Zom-B.

 

It's a clever mix of horror, fantasy and realism - about the damaging 'virus' of racial hatred and social paranoia. And it's full of terrifying cannibalistic crazies.

 

The key relationship in the book - and the reason the storyline works so well - is between teenager B Smith and his rancidly prejudiced father. B's Dad is a convincingly volatile and unpredictable brute and yet one capable of deft manipulation. B says: "Dad's a bully. A wife-beater. A racist. A hateful, nasty sod." Yet, as we discover, the father is not without courage and Shan shows us the dilemma of a young boy trying to make sense of a twisted relationship with a man who disgusts him and yet whom he still loves.

 

There are key, well-drawn scenes in school and Shan provides interesting teachers. With Mrs Reed we see that people are not always what they seem; while the inaptly named Mr Burke seems to be the moral compass for the children. We need to be sceptical in life, he tells them, and look for the sting in the tail. Always hold yourself accountable, is his mantra. The book is a carefully crafted attack on those who pull the strings to incite hatred.

 

Into this toxic social and personal mix come the zombies. Poor old Brian Barry (named, with his own delighted agreement, amusingly, after a cousin of Shan's) gets it early in the book - after watching his monster mother scooping out and eating her husband's brain.

 

The horror scenes are well choreographed and not without the useful escape valve of humour. "He should have dipped that bit of brain in a curry sauce," is one typically gallows humour line.

 

There is some earthy language ("I thought she was going to chew me a new arsehole," says B Smith) but it fits the tone and characters in the book rather than seeming gratuitous. It's set in a modern London where too often the school building is indeed "a cesspit". The advice given to B's classmates as they visit the Imperial War Museum is "don't steal and don't beat up the staff".

 

I won't give away too much of the plot - or the good, unsettling twists - but you can bet that fans will be as hungry for the second instalment as a zombie for brains once they have read this gripping opener.
 

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