WARNING: This review will contain spoilers for Zom-B, the first book in Darren Shan's new series. Seriously, if you have not yet read that book then you should click away from this review right now.
Waking up in a military complex, months after zombies attacked school, B has no memory of the last few months. Life in the UK has turned tough since the outbreak, and B is woven into life- and battle- in the new military regime quickly. But as B learns more about the zombies held in the complex and the scientists keeping them captive, unease settles in. Why exactly was B saved? And is there anyone left in the world to trust?
With Zom-B Darren Shan left himself a seriously difficult act to follow. Those two twists towards then end have had everybody talking (and if you say you guessed both of them then I'm sorry, I simply do not believe you). That twist regarding B made me feel guilty for making assumptions about the character, something I am sure Darren was trying to achieve with his readers. And then he followed it up with B being savaged by the zombies that were rampaging through the school. Way to kill off what we were led to assume was a main character! Or did he?
OK, it isn't creating a spoiler to say that no he did not kill off B. She is alive (sort of) and well (ok, maybe not glowing with health), and wakes to find herself in some kind of large room, surrounded by zombies who are facing up to a team of figures dressed in black leather and motorcycle helmets, wielding spears and flamethrowers. She soon discovers that she is a prisoner in an underground military complex, and no longer human. In fact, she is a zombie herself, although not one of the mindless brain munchers (known as reviveds). Instead she is one of the revitaliseds, having retained her intelligence, memories and the morals/conscience that we saw developing in the first book. Unfortunately for B she also has zombie fangs, sharp bones sticking out from her fingers, hair that won't grow and the inability to sleep.
The powers that be have no idea why some people become revitaliseds, so for the time being B is a glorified lab rat. AT the same time, they keep B and the other revitaliseds completely in the dark as to the state of play above ground, so they have no idea if the county and/or rest of the world has been taken over by zombies, or whether it was a small outbreak of a mysterious disease that the authorities now have under control (considering there are another ten books to come in this series, I'll leave you to guess which is the more likely scenario). Before the end of this second instalment we begin to work out that B and her new 'friends', despite being signed up members of the undead, and far from the villains of the piece. And we also discover that there are far more nasty things than zombies emerging from the pen of Darren Shan. Have a close look at the cover of the third book, Zom-B City, although if clowns creep you out then perhaps you shouldn't (yes, that is an eyeball on its nose).
Like many Shan-fans I expected Zom-B to be full of gore, and apart from the opening and closing chapters, I was wrong. However, the blood splatter is back with a vengeance in Zom-B Underground, with possibly some of Darren's most gory and violent scenes to date. It should be remembered though that this is a YA series, and Darren is writing for a slightly older audience than he did with his vampire and Demonata series. As with the first book in the series the author continues to make his readers think, with the continued themes of racism and bigotry. This was introduced in the first book, with B agonising over the attitudes of her father, and how much of her own personality was due to his nurturing. In this book Shan cleverly continues the 'debate', but this time it is the zombies, and more specifically B and the revitaliseds on the receiving end of abuse, bigotry and intolerance from their human captors.
Two books in and this series is shaping up to be an absolute cracker, with Darren Shan at the very top of his writing game. Zom-B City is scheduled to be published in May, and two more instalments later in 2013. If you know a teen boy who loves horror films and games, but is a reluctant reader, then these are a sure fire way of getting him turning those pages. I for one can't wait to read the next instalment as I have far too many clown and Owl Man related questions I need answering.