Audiobook Review: Zom-B Underground by Darren Shan

8 05 2013

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2013 Zombie Awareness Month

Zom-B Underground by Darren Shan (Zom-B, Bk. 2)

Read by Emma Galvin

Hachette Audio

Length: 3 Hrs 39 Min

Genre: YA Zombie Apocalypse

Quick Thoughts: Zom-B Underground is an interesting step in what is getting to be quite an intriguing little story. While some frustration still remains with our main character, especially for those of us who know the difference between UHF and VHS (oldies), I found the new direction of her angst much more understandable.

Grade: B

Note: Zom-B Underground is the 2nd Book in the series, and this review may contain spoilers for Book 1. You have been warned. And mocked, but mostly warned.

There has been a recent trend with me in my Young Adult Scifi and horror reads where a protagonist will totally annoy the craphole out of me in Book 1 and when I reluctantly pick up Book 2, I find that they have actually grown on me for some reason. I find this odd, because in adult fiction, I tend to find second books in series and trilogies less satisfying then their prequels. So, I was trying to figure out if this was something in the nature of Young Adult novels that has me react this way. Now, I’m a man who’s closer to 40 than 14 so my perspectives are different than that of most of the target audience of these books. I think at the core of Young Adult novels, particularly the types I read which tend to be Apocalyptic or Dystopian tales, there is an element of rebellion.  I think, often in YA debuts, the rebellion is either internal or intimate, striking out against the established beliefs of your close circle or family, and when we move away from the first novel, the rebellion becomes more external, and broader. I think, due to my place in this world, I find  that the initial rebellion against parents or guardians tends to come off bratty, based on some misconception of the world but when they strike out against the establishment, whether it be a corrupt government or just the overall world view, they become more reasonable. In Zom-B, there was an added elements, B just seemed to want to strike out against anything, because she was unable to strike out against her father. In a way, her anger was reflecting her establishment, buying into the world view of a racist father. Her rebellion was selfish based in weakness and she became more of a bully projecting the abuse of her father onto those beneath her. In Zom-B I found her not just unlikable, but reprehensible, almost bordering or irredeemable at a gut level. I find this is rare in YA because much of the development is based on the fact that these younger characters can break away from their upbringing and their mistakes can be redeemed. Now, despite my reaction to B, or maybe because of this reaction I was quite interested in where the author was taking the series.

After the turbulent ending of Zom-B, B is now a Zombie. Yet, something about her is different. During an encounter with a group of Zombie fighting teens, she has an awakening, no longer a moaning shambling zombie, but aware. She finds she is part of a strange experiment involving an anomalous group of aware walking dead. Yet, information is sparse and freedom a pipe dream, and B finds herself at the mercy of people she doesn’t trust. So, I found Zom-B Underground a much more enjoyable listen. Here, B is still a flawed character, but now her hatred and vitriol is turned towards more deserving people. I like that Shan is showing a reasonable transformation in B. She hasn’t instantly become a better person, but you get the feeling she is honestly trying. It’s definitely a help that she’s away from her father, but I doubt we’ve seen the last of him. I actually found the story itself quite original. While I felt its predecessor had more gut punch shocks and twists, Zom B Underground had enough small, well executed twists that despite the obviousness of some of them, there were enough to keep the reader on their toes. As far as down right creepiness, Underground wins by a land side. Its crazy finale is filled with some twisted, Acid Trip style horror images that really, I didn’t need in my brain. Let’s just say their may have been spiders involved. And a clown. Well, all sorts of creepy. Shan continues to build a nice little mythology, giving small reveals here are there, but not even coming close to filling out the whole picture. Where Zom-B left me thinking "Hmmmm…" Underground pushed me more into the "What the holy hell is going on and what exactly is wrong with this man for putting these images in my tidy little brain?" category. Did I mention the clown and his twisted accessories? *shivers* My only complaint is that each small book so far in this series feels more like a chapter in a larger novel than a complete work able to stand on it’s own. There is an almost serial feel to the Zom-B series and if that is something that frustrates you as a reader you may want to wait until a few of the books are available before jumping into the pool. Zom-B Underground is an interesting step in what is getting to be quite an intriguing little story. While some frustration still remains with our main character, especially for those of us who know the difference between UHF and VHS (oldies), I found the new direction of her angst much more understandable. I was sorta interested in seeing where Shan was going to take us in Zom-B Underground, now WANT BRAINS THEN ZOM-B CITY NOW!

Emma Galvin is just a fun narrator, whether she’s using an American or English accent. Here she’s busting out the English accent to bring this story to life. Here accent is relatively soft, but authentic sounding. She brings the wide array or characters to life. She really manages to capture both the brash, in-your-your face external Becky, while also showing her insecurities in her internal dialogue. This struggle is really the essences of the first two Zom-B novels and Galvin delivers it beautifully. She also really ups the pacing, alternating between some dreamlike horror sequences with some fast paced action without missing a beat. Some of the issues with the prequel, where twists that come into play in print just couldn’t be delivered affectively in audio, are no longer and issue, making audio an ideal medium for this story. Zom-B Underground was a quick, fun, and all sorts of creepy listen that had enough thrills for adults, both young and well, not so young.

Note: Thanks to Hachette Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.





Audiobook Review: Devil’s Wake by Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due

11 09 2012

Devil’s Wake by Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due

Read by Emily Bauer

Audible Frontiers

Length: 8 Hrs 19 Min

Genre: Zombie Apocalypse

Quick Thoughts: Devil’s Wake is a fast paced, often terrifying Zombie tale with Young Adult elements, but strong enough to keep an Adult Zombie enthusiast interested. While not a groundbreaking novel of the genre, the author’s do add some interesting twists to the end that make the series potential great. The true strength of the novel is its characters, and I look forward to seeing where they go in the future.

Grade: B

I was recently involved in a friendly debate over at Kristilyn’s Blog called Reading In Winter. Kristilyn was taken part in Zombie week, but in her feature discussed how she preferred Vampires to Zombies. Now, followers of this blog know, I am a avid supporter of Zombie fiction. This year alone I have listened to close to 30 Zombie novels. As a supporter of the undead I felt a need to come in on the side of rotting shamblers. Yet, I feel what the issue came down to was a fundamental difference in what people want from their monsters. I am an old school horror guy. I want to be scared by my monsters. Alone in the dark alley, late at night, when I encounter a monster, my impulse will to be run screaming into the night, or at least take up arms are destroy that which wants to devour me. I want no distractions. Specifically, I don’t want to pause for a moment and considerer the romantic possibilities that I might have with the monster. Kristilyn is quite right when she says that zombies are rotting, smelly, ugly creatures with decaying limbs, and that this makes them utterly undatable. Yet, for her this is a negative. For me, it’s a matter of survival. I am a typical male who is highly influenced by the attractiveness of the opposite sex. If zombies were not the putrid, disgusting bags of human waste they are, I may be momentarily distracted by their physical attributes, and end up locked in an embrace, with said zombie pulling out my entrails for a tasty hors d’oeuvre. It seems that monsters are no longer evaluated by their menace to our personal safety, but whether or not they are sexy. Vampires, werewolves, merman, and fallen angels definitely seem to achieve sexiness. Zombies, well, not so much. Yet, when the dead began to rise, with their putrid smell and decaying limbs, we may very well be happy that they have lost the sexy.

Kendra has lead a pretty sheltered life. Her parents have protected her from most of the nasty experiences in her life. Yet, when a freak interaction between the flu shot and a new weight loss gimmick leads to a devastating disease, and when those who die from that disease begin to rise up and attack the living, Kendra is no longer protected. Eventually, Kendra is on her own, until she meets up with a group of juvenile offenders who served there sentences working as camp counselors. Together they travel a nightmare journey through a changed world looking for a rumored safe haven in California. I went into my reading of Devil’s Wake pretty cold, based more on the reputation and past works of the authors then the synopsis of the story.  It really wasn’t what I expected. First off, Devil’s Wake was definitely more Young Adultish then I had expected. I don’t mean this as a criticism, just a note on the style and theme of the novel. The focus of Devil’s Wake is on the young characters, and even has a bit of that teen-angsty romance. This is something I enjoy, when done well, but some people may find this aspect frustrating. Luckily, Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due, do this pretty well. The highlight of this tale for me was the characters. The authors bring together a strong cast of diverse characters, unlike what you see on most Zombie novels. I found it refreshing to have authentic portrayals of characters of color, yet, without the authors needing to beat you over the head with it. These were simply real characters in a horrible situation. Barnes and Due’s zombie outbreak scenario was pretty boilerplate for the genre. Long time zombie apocalypse fans won’t find to much groundbreaking in this area of the book. Yet, the authors throw in some interesting twists in the evolution of the zombies that while only briefly explored in this novel, offers a lot of potential for future editions in this series. Yet, this is a series. My major criticism of the novel is that I felt no sense of closure with the plot. I expect novels in a series to have an open ended ending, but I always like some loop closed in each book. Here, the book simply ends, with not much accomplished. If this is something that frustrates you, you may consider waiting until future editions of the series are released. Luckily, the next book in the series is released early winter 2013, so no need to wait too long. Overall, Devil’s Wake is a fast paced, often terrifying Zombie tale with Young Adult elements, but strong enough to keep an Adult Zombie enthusiast interested. While not a groundbreaking novel of the genre, the author’s do add some interesting twists to the end that make the series potential great. The true strength of the novel is its characters, and I look forward to seeing where they go in the future.

If there is any narrator that frustrates me more than Emily Bauer, I’m not sure who it is. I really like Bauer’s narrations. I have experienced some excellent work by her, and find her pacing to always be spot on. It’s just, she is often miscast in novels. She has a perky, soprano voice that is quite appropriate for novels from a younger teenage POV. In Devil’s Wake, I thought her voice was simply OK for Kendra. Kendra is described as "Disney Channel Black" and Bauer’s voice was fitting, but I thought there could have been better choices. I would have loved a narrator with a little more grit in their voice. While Bauer was OK for Kendra, the other characters just weren’t as effective. I felt the older characters, especially Kendra’s grandfather came off too plain. The teenage boys had a bland quality as well, not as jarring as the adults, but I would have loved more edge to their voices as well. For the average audiobook fan, I think Bauer’s precise pacing and listenability will work well. Yet, for those of us looking for more that just a pleasant voice, but for authentic characters and tones that match the tale, Bauer’s performance won’t be quite as appreciated.