‘Zom-B City’ is the third in Irish author Darren Shan’s new twelve book series of zombie novels for young adults. Shan shot to fame over a decade ago with a series of vampire stories for teenagers. Since then he has written several other horror novels for children and adults. The ‘Zom-B’ series is his first foray into the well-trodden zombie arena though. Does he have something fresh to say?
To bring you up to date the first book, ‘Zom-B’, introduced us to Becky Smith. B, as she’s known, is a troubled teen-ager whose father is a violent racist thug, happy to beat up his wife and child at the slightest provocation. B has a fierce temper and gets into a lot of trouble at school including over racial issues, where her father’s bigoted views tend to colour her own even though she knows racism is wrong. Her ordinary world of teen-age angst goes by the wayside though when zombies invade the school and start killing everyone. B almost escapes but is ultimately caught and killed by the zombies, who rip her heart out. Surprisingly, that’s not the end of B.
At the start of the second book, ‘Zom-B Underground’, B wakes up in an underground military complex several months later. She has become a zombie but not an ordinary one. B is a ‘revitalised’, a rare type of zombie that retains its memories and its ability to think and reason. The military have gathered a group of the revitalised together and are training them to become their shock troops as normal zombies don’t instantly attack revitaliseds, seemingly confused by their similarity to the ordinary undead. B decides that she doesn’t want to become a contract killer for the Army so they stop her meals. She is only rescued from starvation, which would lead to the loss of her ability to think and reason, when the complex is invaded by zombies. This time B is the only one who manages to escape to the world outside.
In this third book, ‘Zom-B City’, B finds herself outside the underground complex, which turns out to be in the East End of London. She decides to head for her old family home on the Essex border. On the way, she is attacked by trophy hunters out to bag themselves a few zombie kills in the lawless chaos. When she pleads with them for her life, they are clearly shaken up by the realisation that not all zombies are mindless, so they let her go. When she does get home, her parents are nowhere to be seen. When she tries to work out what’s going on in the wider world, she finds that the TV is useless but there are several radio channels still transmitting. From them, B learns the truth about the zombie outbreak. It was global, was well-organised and has led to the deaths of some four to five billion people, perhaps three quarters of the world’s population. In the UK, what’s left of the Army is busy killing zombies, setting up safe zones and rescuing the uninfected from sites across the country. When just such a rescue mission is announced on the radio, to pick people up from central London in three days’ time, B decides to head over there. Her plan is to announce herself to the Army and see if they can use her blood to find a cure for the zombie condition. The question is will the Army listen or will they shoot first and ask questions later?
‘Zom-B City’ is a quest story. Having escaped from captivity, B wants to find out what has happened to her parents, to her city and to the rest of the world since the day the zombies came. To her credit, she wants to help the remaining humans fight back against the zombie apocalypse even though she is now a part of it. Her problem, which becomes the reader’s problem, too, is that she doesn’t really know what she’s doing. B spends half the book moving aimlessly from one encounter with a hostile group of humans or zombies to the next. As a result, the book includes a lot of action-packed incidents but the storyline remains unclear until the final few chapters. This made it an entertaining but frustrating read for me, in particular because the first two books in the series did not suffer from this lack of a clear direction.
On the plus side, Shan retains his trademark ability to invent gruesome characters and show them doing horrific things to each other. Fans of his previous books are likely to find all the ingredients they’ve come to expect from him here.
‘Zom-B City’ is an enjoyable YA horror story that includes several exciting set pieces but spends too much time meandering between them. It does however neatly set up the next book in the series. I expect I’ll seek out book four as soon as it is published in June to see what happens next.
(pub: pub: Simon & Schuster, 213 page hardback. Price: £12.99. ISBN: 978-0-85707-760-8)