Second Look | 13 February 2013 | Katie

The Story: When zombies attack the village of Pallaskenry, Ireland, B immediately dismisses it as a joke. As claims of other zombie attacks dribble in from a few other parts of the world, people start to take the curfews and warnings more seriously. But B writes it off as a publicity stunt or take the side of the conspiracy theorists. When the zombie epidemic hits B’s school, however, nobody’s laughing anymore…


The Low Down: I don’t know exactly where to start, so let’s go right from the beginning.


This book started with one of the most graphic and intense zombie scenes I’v ever read. It was compelling, bloody, and I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. I was sucked in right from the first page. And then I got to Chapter Two.


I’m trying not to judge this book too harshly, as it is the first of a 3-book series, so I’m going to give it the benefit of the doubt and assume that the let-down that was the first 3/4 of the book was to set up the rest of the series. But as a result, I was so not feeling this book.


This is the first time I’ve read one of Darren Shan’s books, and from what I know of the author, he spins some pretty edgy, graphic, and horrifying tales. After the first chapter, I was expecting a bloody massacre littered throughout the rest of the book (which is what I want in a zombie novel!) What I was not expecting was 100-FREAKING-PAGES before another zombie made an appearance. I would have rather seen the 3-book series be one giant 400+ page novel, so that a small portion could have been the setup/backstory and the remainder could have been zombified.


I had a really hard time with the language and slang. Darren Shan is Irish. The book takes place in London. Needless to say, there’s going to be lots of slang/phraseology native to those countries and areas, which is totally fine. But for me, personally, as a reader, I had a hard time understanding what was going on half the time. I found myself Googling words in every other paragraph because I had no idea what the characters were talking about. While I don’t deem that a black mark against the book or the writing, readers should know that this might be an issue.


I was also bothered by the dynamic between B and dear-old dad. B’s father is an racial extremist, alcoholic, and abuser in every sense of the word. While this could have provided an intricate element to the story, the bulk of it could have been condensed and all it did was piss me off. While B struggles with and questions Dad’s opinions, in reality B is just a big bully. And kind of a prick. I had no sense of sympathy for the character. Screw the zombies, halfway through the book *I* was tempted to start cracking skulls like walnuts myself. Shan drops a huge bomb regarding B near the end, and I think that’s supposed to give you a completely different feel for the character. But for me, it didn’t change my opinion any.


Once the zombies attack, B must overcome many preconceived prejudices to unite with anyone of any race, creed, or color who can help them survive, and that’s the core moral of this first book in the Zom-B series. We do see B make a huge decision at the end, and I understand the backstory with Dad was needed so readers could see and appreciate B’s change through the book. However, I don’t think it warranted taking up more than half of the book.


Speaking of characters, I felt no emotional connection to any of the other characters featured, save for maybe B’s mother who is the constant victim of her husband’s abuse. B’s friends all have nicknames (such as La Lips, Ballydefeck, and Stagger Lee, to name a few) and I couldn’t identify or relate to a personality of any of them, because I couldn’t keep any of them straight. (MINI-SPOILER ALERT) In Shan’s defense, I could understand Shan not wanting to create characters that readers would get too attached to, as most of them do not survive to see the end of the novel. (END SPOILER)


Despite my dislike for the book itself, Shan is a great horror writer. The scenes that were, in fact, horrific were graphic, bloody messes. The fear and suspense is palpable, and what it lacked for in the first 100 pages it made up for in intensity in the final 70 pages of the book. Given the style and content of his writing, I can easily see fans of his works eventually graduating to and enjoying Stephen King (if they haven’t already).


The Bottom Line: Shan weaves interesting psychologically complex elements, such as extreme racism and abuse (physical, mental, and emotional), into this novel. But if you’re looking for a gory book about a zombie apocalypse, you’re only going to get about 70 out of 174 pages that are worth your time. Hopefully the sequels will bring the series together and make it the horrifying zombie novels they’re expected to be. I’d give the sequel a shot, but only if the zombie horror picks up from where it left off, and actually continues throughout the duration of the book.



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