Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Class Three (2014) by Duncan P. Bradshaw - Zombie Book Review

At last years UK Festival of Zombie Culture I met the friendly author of Class Three; Duncan P. Bradshaw and brought a book of his that was made up of both Class Three, and it's sequel. This review will be of the first book itself but I have to say the tome this came in was of high quality and had some bonus content such as an alternate ending and a short Christmas themed tale that I assume isn't in the stand alone novel but added to my enjoyment of it.

The day after being dumped by his long term girlfriend Sophie, Jim leaves his house for work only to (eventually) realise undead apocalypse has swept the globe over night. His zombie film enthusiast manic brother Phillip soon joins up with him and together they set out on a pre prepared plan, they are to check in on their parents, then Jim is going to check on his ex, finally they are going to head out to a remote area of Wales to sit out the apocalypse. With hordes of undead, psychos and a Doomsday cult in the way though things don't go quite as smoothly as planned...

Any fears this would not be a good book were pretty much dispelled immediately, Bradshaw has a way of writing that is both inviting and fun, his descriptions and comparisons of situations, and the way his characters interact are all so well written. There is a near perfect blend of horror and comedy, a juxtaposition that usually goes well together. The humour comes from the writing style, a style that reminded me quite a bit of Robert Rankin's books, there is a farcical world environment on show, one where everyone gets caught up in the little details and the threat of world wide extinction does not play on people's minds too much. This is best displayed in the character of Phillip who is just a power house of mad energy and inappropriate lines, the type of character who when him and a group are in a petrol station shop surrounded by the undead he starts singing a song about a legless zombie. Being a huge fan of zombies you get the impression he is just in his total element. At times the personality of this character threatens to over shadow everyone else, there is a small cast of good guys but even so one or two I felt I knew nothing much about due to Phil being the centre of attention. It's just good that he is a legitimately funny person, a lot of the humour came from him and Class Three is all the better for it.

There is also lots of horror, without the comedy there is enough here to be a straight up horror as the violence is deep and at times I felt quite repulsed. The descriptions of victims of the undead, as well as victims of other humans is intense, people get ripped into chunks, all described in intimate detail, eye balls gauged out, intestines pulled out of stomachs, torture, random violent acts and brutality. The ghouls are able to easily pull people apart when they get a hold of them, you could say this is unrealistic but Bradshaw is obviously such a huge zombie fan himself, none of what his creatures do would seem out of place in one of the classic George Romero films such as Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead. In general there are a lot of odes to media, it is strange to say, but it is refreshing to read a zombie novel where they were already ingrained in the book world's popular culture, the description of Phil's flat laden with films and figures sounded like a spit of mine, one of the plot points is that he is making a real life version of Max Brooks's Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, carrying around a huge bag full of different tools and weapons he wants to get field practice with. As well as mentioning such cult classics such as The Battery and Stalled the characters themselves often speak using lines from such films as Aliens, Shaun of the Dead, even some Monty Python thrown in for good measure.

Class Three does a lot of interesting things that seemed quite clever. I loved how seemingly random unrelated chapters would down the line make sense and have bearing on the plot, revealing secrets that give those chapters deeper meaning. I loved that despite the story having some clear antagonists they never actually ever meet up with our heroes, the sub plot with them going it's own way and only occasionally effecting the main storyline. I spent the whole novel waiting for an inevitable show down and it again felt refreshing that it never actually occurred. Talking of the antagonists, the fact that they seemed pretty much like an evil version of Jim and Phil was an interesting contrast between the two plots. A few of the chapters follow a zombie and kind of his perspective on what is going on, as well as feeding back again into the main plot by foreshadowing areas the heroes will go to I did wonder if the name of the followed zombie; Colin was purposely chosen due to the indie film Colin that itself revolved around the perspective of following a zombie from his inception. If it was then that was clever on so many levels.

The story as it was is not too surprising in it's general scope, reminded me a bit of Shaun of the Dead at times, there were all the elements I had seen countless times before, but the fun of the zombie genre is that following a well worn path still makes for a fun time. Bradshaw states at the start of the book several rules for his world, one being that stupid people wont last very long which was good to see implemented, another one was that bites didn't turn people, not something I see very often. He also seemed to realise the true fear factor of zombies is their sheer numbers, at several points this is demonstrated when never ending hordes attack and overwhelm.

I really enjoyed Class Three, it was far better than I expected it to be (to my shame) and was genuinely amusing whilst at the same time being grim as hell at times (in this world even children are not zombie proof). It shows the quality that the worst thing I can think to say about the novel is that the title Class Three is pretty awful at giving an impression of what it was going to be like. From an outsiders initial perspective I thought first this was the third book in a series, and second it was going to be something to do with schools! Title aside I loved this book and completely recommend it to fans of zombie fiction.


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