After finishing book 1 of Devan Sagliani’s Zombie Attack! Rise of the Horde, it was clear why this is listed as both an Amazon best seller and the Goodreads 2012 best zombie/horror e-book of 2012. The narrator, Xander, is a wise beyond his years, katana wielding 16-year-old who is waiting out the zombie apocalypse at Vandenberg AFB. A loner in a small group of mostly military family members who have survived to this point, Xander spends his time practicing martial arts and waiting to be reunited with his soldier brother. When Xander comes across a gang of base bullies tormenting 12-year-old Benji, Xander springs into action with the moves of a young Chuck Norris. In the aftermath, he’s a loner no more and Benji makes a great companion, full of the enthusiasm and excitement which provides a great contrast with Xander’s at times dour and pessimistic view of the world.
When zombie hordes overrun the base, Xander is one of the few that is quick enough and skilled enough to find an escape route. His little shadow, Benji, keeps close and follows along. Forced to run for their lives, the unlikely duo must outwit fellow survivors, a task made more difficult by Xander’s belligerent teen male posturing and bravado. Much like the sword he carries, Xander is a sharp instrument who doesn’t mind drawing first blood. Benji manages to smooth the rough edges and every time Xander veers toward assholery, Benji pulls him back. It’s a sweet little brother-big brother relationship that left this reader looking forward to meeting Xander’s big brother, Moto, and seeing if that dynamic mirrors this one.
So, there’s relationships, an ineffective government response to zombies, and a rapidly decreasing number of survivors, yet Rise of the Horde doesn’t focus on the blood and gore part of the zombie apocalypse and doesn’t present stereotypical villains. Yes, there are scared townspeople. Yes, there is a crazy cult leader. Yes, there are biker gangs. But the great part of this tale is the care and depth the author uses in describing these so-called villains and their followers. They are individual, memorable, and as capable of evil as they are of redemption. Xander approaches each new encounter with a healthy skepticism of their motives and a tactician’s ability to see past the surface to the moves below.
Certainly one of the best YA zombie books I’ve read, it’s reassuring to know that once you’ve reached the end of Rise of the Horde, Sagliani has a second installment, Zombie Attack: Army of the Dead, available. Zombie Attack! Rise of the Horde is compelling, authentic, and worthy of the reader’s time. If you’ve already read it, let me know what you thought of it in the comments. If you haven’t read it, go buy a copy and update me after you’re done. This one’s a steal, currently at 99 cents on Amazon.