They're not exactly the friendliest of creatures; fiercely aggressive, rancid in appearance and always paired with an insatiable hunger for `Braaains ...' but zombies have somehow found themselves at the height of popularity these days. So, when a novel comes along featuring the shambling, reanimated corpses the world is so used to watching/reading about/ blowing up in video-games, it really does need to be something rather special to raise more than just the most dedicated zom-buster's eyebrow.
A YA novel at heart, Undead begins in a suitably teenage fashion as heroine Bobby, the new girl with the foreign accent, tries to deflect the unruly attentions of her rowdy schoolmates. No easy task as the book starts on a crowded bus pulling into a rest stop in deepest darkest Scotland. Even more tricky when, after Bobby elects to stay behind whilst everyone else ventures outside for a refresher, her schoolmates return to the bus as groaning, walking corpses intent on tearing her limb from limb.
It's perhaps lucky then that Bobby is not alone on the bus; rebellious class clown Smitty has been ordered to stay behind with her although, right from the start, it's clear he's more intent on throwing out one-liners rather than taking the situation (or anything else for that matter) particularly seriously. And this is Undead's greatest strength: the slick dialogue, as well as Bobby's internal thoughts, are both wonderfully sassy and frequently laugh-out-loud funny, despite the relative horror of the situation. Things soon become even more spirited, too, as popular girl Alice (quickly nicknamed Malice) joins the pair, shortly followed by class know-it-all, Pete.
With the gang set firmly in place the zingers continue to fly but that's not to say that Undead is all fun and giggles. The zombie threat is not watered down at all and the descriptions of the ferocious living corpses are graphic, grizzly and often very, very bloody - this is no story for the faint-hearted and, as one might expect in any such plot, people (minors included) frequently meet horrible ends.
Whilst the book's main story centres on survival (the gang have several colourful discussions concerning what they should do and where they should go) the final act, a superb series of set pieces taking place in a moody Scottish castle, introduces the protagonists to the sinister plot behind the outbreak. Add to the mix a torrent of cliff-hangers, a host of excellent supporting characters (special mention to the divine yet devious Grace) and this really is a novel that anyone, undead or not, would no doubt be delighted to sink their teeth into.