Some secrets are so unthinkable you can't even admit them to yourself . . .
Lele, Ginger, Ash and Saint - aka the Mall Rats - are hiding out in the Deadlands, a once-prosperous area of Cape Town, now swarming with the living dead. Exiled from the city enclave for crimes against the Resurrectionist State, the Rats face a stark choice: return and risk capture - or leave Cape Town and go in search of other survivors.But what if the rest of South Africa is nothing but a zombie-riddled wasteland?
Now Lele has discovered the truth about why the lurching dead leave them alone, she can't bring herself to tell the rest of the gang. And she's not the only Mall Rat harbouring a dangerous secret . . . Can the friends' survive on the road if all they have is each other? Or will their secrets tear them apart?
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To sum things up, the 2010 Soccer World Cup never happened because of a zombie outbreak. Ten years later, The Resurrectionists, a fanatic religious group that worships the zombies, rule Cape Town City Enclave. Our main characters, Ash, Lele, Saint, and Ginger can travel through the city without being attacked by zombies. The common theory regarding why the zombies have no interest in attacking them is tied to the fact that each of them, except Ginger, have a twin (This ‘twin theory’ honestly makes no sense to me, even without the exceptions of Ginger, Ember, and other characters, but I’m guessing it’s explained more fully in the next book).
As a YA Zombie apocalypse novel, Death of a Saint is fairly average. It’s the details and unexpected twists that make it stand out.
The characters lean towards angsty, but not so much that it detracts from the novel. The main culprits are Ash and Lele, who both tend to be broody, and are confused about their romantic feelings for each other. Saint grapples with the fact that her girlfriend was turned into a Guardian and Ginger is lonely, but all of this stays firmly in sub-plot. Overall, the emotional state of the characters is believable and only a facet of who they are.
While Part One isn’t lacking in any way, this novel gets really interesting in Part Two, where the characters leave Cape Town in search of other survivors who might be able to help them free the Enclave from Resurrectionist control. This quest takes them down along the south coast of South Africa before heading north towards Johannesburg. Along the way, they face off against lions and encounter several tiny groups of survivors, not all of them friendly or even welcoming. We also discover that Ash has been keeping secrets from the rest of the group. This withheld information ultimately leads into a surprising climax, followed by a denouement that raises intriguing questions.
I loved Herne’s descriptions of post-apocalyptic SA, although I wish Bloemfontein (my home city) had more going for it in this novel than a stop at the prison. The minor characters they encounter on their journey are well developed and distinct, as are the safe places where they’ve holed up to avoid the zombies. Since I was mostly reading this novel for its setting, I was delighted with how well Herne delivered in this aspect.
For all who are interested, diversity in this novel is a fairly accurate representation of reality. Saint is Tswana and Ginger is British (both were stranded in SA when the outbreak occurred). I think Lele is coloured and Ash is white, but details about both characters are a little sketchy. The vast majority of secondary characters appear to be Xhosa (even in Bloemfontein, where Sotho is more common), and there’s mention of Indian characters. It doesn’t seem like any Greek, Portuguese, or Italian people survived the zombies. Saint is openly lesbian, but she seems to be the only LGBTQIA character.
If you enjoy YA romances with a touch of angst and unusual resolutions, zombie apocalypse dystopias in general, or are just looking for something to read that’s a little unusual then I recommend you try Herne’s Deadlands series. I definitely want to go back and read the first novel, Deadlands, before I search for The Army of the Lost.
Be warned that online shop listings for this series tend to be messy at best and disastrous at worst. If you really want a copy then it's probably best to order it through your local book shop.