Deadlands presents this brain-munching, synapsed-brunching reviewer with a quandary: how do you review a book which has achieved self-decapitation with its own tagline: ‘Everything’s better with zombies – not’.
Deadlands, zombie-YA, we all knew it was happening. We lived our normal lives, went about our days, and welcomed spring, but the first shambling figure was already on the horizon and with the publication of Deadlolz on April 18th the hordes are upon us.
Set in a dystopian version of South Africa, Deadlolz introduces us to seventeen-year-old Lele – a moody teen who lives with her father and step-mother under the protection of the Guardians, a group of shadowy figures who preside over a sprawling city of refugees.
I’m about to howl a lot of names at you so stop slurping on that juicy bone marrow and cock a gummy ear.The Resurrectionists worship the Guardians and believe that because the Guardians protect the refugees from the “Rotters” (zombies, duh) they are gods. But not everyone agrees with the Resurrectionists – The ANZ think they’re really a bunch of Rotter-lovers.
In a Judean People’s Front/People’s Front of Judea moment, the ANZ are an underground rebel movement who want to overthrow the Resurrectionists but are not to be confused with the Mall Rats who also hate the Resurrectionists and the ANZ. And they really love zombie films. And new zombies are called Hatchlings. And Lele’s teacher is called Acid Face. And her nerdy school mate is called Zit Face.
Every year, the Guardians select three teenagers and take them to the zombie ridden Deadlands. No one knows what happens to them next, but Lele sure isn’t thrilled to be picked, and escapes into an abandoned shopping mall where she meets – who’da thunk it – the Mall Rats!
The Mall Rats spend a lot of time at the Mall, stealing things for people in the refugee city and watching zombie films. META. Therein lies the extent of Herne’s acknowledgment of the zombie canon. Dawn of the Dead, Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland, 21 Days, World War Z – all those juicy little morsels dribble from the characters’ mouths, but it’s lip service at best.
When writing in such an crowded arena, an author can’t get away with a whimper of acknowledgement: they need to wrench open the doors and embrace the zombie hoards. It’s not enough to just write another zombie book: the mother-daughter writing team behind the pen-name of Lily Herne needed to give us something new, to recreate the zombie novel for a younger audience.
Instead, readers are presented with a neatly shuffling line of plastic zombies, blood-free and more concerned with filling their nails than digging them deep into the quivering flesh of their next victim.
...crack open the spine and all you find inside are dusty platitudes. With endorsements from Lauren Beukes (a FBS favourite: anyone with a love of South African writing, Philip Pullman, sci-fi, fantasy or fantastic writing should read Zoo City, now) and comparisons to The Hunger Games and Misifits being bandied around, it was easy to get excited about Deadlolz. But crack open the spine and all you find inside are dusty platitudes.
YA fiction could have been the ideal vehicle for a zombie reimagining, but this is bland and bloodless, with the writer’s gaze so firmly fixed on the cash-cow-concept of a trilogy that she seemingly forgot to give the first book any teeth.
Deadlands was published in paperback by Much-in-Little on 18th April and is available from Foyles, Amazon or your local independent bookshop, priced at £6.99. An ebook edition is also available, priced at £4.48.
Rating: 2/5 - An interesting concept, but more dead than undead.
Recommended for: Only those with a truly insatiable appetite for undead YA fiction
Other recommended reading: For South African dystopia, Zoo City by Lauren Beukes; for imaginative zombie fiction, World War Z by Max Brooks, and for YA fans, just go to the source: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.