A wee bit late tonight this post – I blame the frankly AWESOME Paralympics closing ceremony. I SO want to see the Rio Paralympics after that display and I LOVED the Steampunk-esque theme and lightbulb trapeze artists!
So, which am I reviewing today? I can’t keep stum any longer, it’s Darren Shan’s new book, Zom-B.
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Childrens Books
Image above obviously not the front cover of the book, it’s my own drawing, please ask me for it if for some bizarre reason you want to use it. As soon as I get permission from Simon & Schuster, I shall of course put in the real cover. For the moment though, please no rude comments at my lack of zombie-drawing skillz and have no fear, they in no way reflect on the quality of the book!
Zom-B was sent to me as a proof (ie. A pre-published copy not meant for sale, so it still has a couple of typos, missing illustrations and whatnot. An unpolished product essentially) and in it was a little letter from Darren Shan (not addressed to me personally, sad to say! I should be so lucky to be on first name terms with an author!) telling me that he defies anyone to summarise this book without giving away any of it’s twists. He reckoned there were two twists. After zooming through it, I reckon it’s more like three, one right at the start of the book and I shall do my best to give away as little as possible but still tell you something!
We start off with zombies as the next big news story – there’s talk that the reason behind a town in Ireland being quarantined is not because of a gas leak, but because it’s inhabitants were actually wiped out by zombies. B, living in London, is sceptical. Partly because it’s zombies (c’mon, really? The walking dead? Seriously?) And partly because his dad is sceptical. And B has learnt the hard way that you do not disagree with his dad. His dad is, shall we say, selective in his friendships and his likes and dislikes and B, although he knows it’s wrong to dislike someone because of the colour of their skin, cannot help but remember that it’s his dad who tells him that, and you’re supposed to love your dad, right? Even if he does beat up your mum and say the most foul things about your best friend.
This is the first in a new series and it does have that feel about it – it feels like a book setting up the rest of the series so that, for a book called Zom-B, there is very little in the way of actual brain-noshing going on. It surprised me, in fact, how un-horror-y it was when I know that Shan is usually classified as a horror writer. What is there is very brain-noshy and slurpy, no fear, but I get the impression that this book sets the scene for the next book in the series and Zom-B Underground will have far more in the way of blood-splashing in it’s plot.
This setting-up of the series, does not hinder the story though oh no – I was BLOWN AWAY by this novel. I read it as a non-horror fan, and I was determined to give it a fair and balanced review regardless of my dislike of the genre, only to find myself raving and flailing about this book to anyone who would stand still long enough. I did not spot the twists coming (all three of them!) at all and I am desperate to find someone else to talk to about them and generally get excited about the series with. I need an outlet for my newfound admiration of Shan! The moral argument B faces – whether he should still love and follow his dad, even though he’s a violent racist – is very cleverly handled in what amounts to quite a slender teen read and I was really impressed with how Shan gets inside B’s mind. I’ve never considered the question before – if someone you loved really was such a nasty piece of work, could you still love them simply because you’re related to them? What takes priority, morals or your family? This question dominates the book. I’ve read books that featured racism before but they haven’t stuck in my mind quite as much as this one will, I think because it’s so easy for the reader to understand B’s dilemma and his way of trying to work it out. For a thug and a bully with a foul mouth, B’s a very engaging character. You can have absolutely nothing in common with B whatsoever and still understand exactly where he’s coming from, so brilliant and careful is Shan’s characterisation. This is suchclever writing, I want to read more even when I’m disgusted by B’s racism and his decisions. I’m in awe.
That’s probably one of the masterstrokes of this book for me – I should hate B. He is essentially a thug. He spits racist abuse, he’s a bully and he’s very aggressive. He seems to see everyone as a potential threat to him. And yet, I like him, or at least I cannot hate him. How has Shan managed this?! He’s created a character that has loads of flaws running right through him, a character that in any other book would be the bad guy, yet I want to know more about him! No matter what B says and does, I want to know more about how he feels, what he thinks, why he listens to the people he does and what he think s about himself.
The book moves very quickly and I surprised myself by reading it pretty much in one sitting. Three hours was all it took me to finish this book and I was genuinely sad to do so. I know that Darren Shan is a popular teen writer and now I know why – really fluid writing, hugely engaging plot, multi-levelled characters and a book that promises BIG THINGS in the upcoming series. Even if you’re not a fan of horror, I advise you to do what I did, ignore your usual preferences, and pick up this book for a surprising read.