Title: Death of a Saint
Author: Lily Herne (Sarah and Savannah Lotz)
Series: Mall Rats #2
Published: 1 April 2012
Publisher: Puffin Books, a division of Penguin
Genre: YA, fantasy, action adventure
Source: review copy from the publisher
It’s been a few weeks since the final events of Deadlands. Lele, Saint, Ash and Ginger are camping out the wilderness that is Cape Town because it’s too much of a risk to return to either the mall or their hideout outside the enclave. When they save a family from the zombies however, they have no choice but to take them to the enclave, so they decide to use the opportunity to buy supplies. It’s a big mistake. Corruption has festered, security has become more brutal, and the Resurrectionst government is about to distribute Wanted posters with the names and descriptions of the four Mall Rats. Their days of raiding the mall and selling the products in the enclave are definitely over.
It’s clear to Ash that they need to get the hell out of Cape Town. It’s a difficult decision to make, but they’ll be able to get away from the institution that wants them dead and perhaps find other survivors to help them fight the Resurrectionists. They might even find some answers to the many secrets surrounding the Guardians.
So begins their road trip across a decimated South Africa. They find new companions and new reasons to be hopeful about the future, but mostly it’s a hard journey, and not just because of what the Rotters have done to the country. Some of the Rats are keeping secrets that could destroy their friendships. What they find tests their characters and their relationships, and puts their lives at risk. As it turns out, there are far stranger and more dangerous things than Rotters or even Guardians out there, and the Mall Rats will be sniffing them out.
Now, I didn’t exactly love Deadlands, but Death of a Saint is a book of another calibre. Everything that bugged me about its predecessor is no longer an issue. Firstly, it has a different style. Lele no longer addresses an audience, which she did for no apparent reason in book 1 (she didn’t seem to be recording her experiences, so who was she talking to?). There are no more super-short chapters ending in one-liner cliffhangers. The narrative of Death of a Saint is smoother, more focused and the writing is more refined. Chapters narrated by Lele are now alternated with chapters narrated by Saint, giving us two perspectives on the story. This new tactic can actually be a little confusing as there often isn’t much difference between the two (both characters speak the same way and are mostly in the same situations), but for the most part it wasn’t much of a problem.
I also think that the characters are better written, and the and their interactions are more interesting. The Mall Rats learn new things about each other, much of it unsettling. At the end of Deadlands, Lele learned why the Rotters don’t attack the Mall Rats, but she finds the secret so shameful, she can’t bring herself to share it with the others, even though she knows she should.
Ash and Lele were clearly attracted to each other in book 1 (forming a clichéd loved triangle with Thabo), but now the possibility of a relationship seems to be dying out. Ash seems to be taking Hester’s death harder than the rest of them, and he’s always moody. He might have been the sexy brooding rebel before, but now his attitude gets everyone down and is killing his relationship with Lele. As Saint puts it, “The angst act is getting old” (50). Lele even starts to wonder if Ash’s good looks are the only reason she still likes him, since he’s been such an unapproachable asshole lately. Then Ash’s mood changes when they meet a stunningly sexy girl who’s also immune to Rotter attacks. She’s perky, brave and endlessly nice so everyone instantly likes her (me included). Lele is instantly jealous, not only of the newcomer’s gorgeous curves (compared to Lele’s skinny frame) but of how much time Ash spends with her, talking and laughing. It’s sheer torment.
This may sound mean, but I think it was good that the authors made Lele suffer like this. In book 1 I found her too temperamental and troublesome. Now she seems to have calmed down a bit, and the way Ash keeps hurting her made me more empathetic – it’s a situation we’ve all been in.
Ginger, on the other hand, is a character I always liked. Lele describes him as “the only person in the world who can put a positive spin on a zombie apocalypse” (113), and his ability to crack jokes and think of movie references even in the worst situations easily makes him the series’ most entertaining and likeable character. He occasionally shows a vulnerable side though – unlike the others, he hasn’t had a serious romantic interest, and he’s lonely. It’s quite heart-warming then, when he adopts a baby hyena and gives him the ridiculous name, ‘Bambi’. Despite the name, Bambi is really cute and I can see him growing up to be Ginger’s bad-ass companion. For the moment though, he mostly just has ‘accidents’ in Ginger’s hoodie and gives him my favourite line in the book:
“Don’t shoot! I have a hyena!” (150)
In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that it’s the characters that made this a great book. I really cared about all of them, and my feelings were like ropes wrapping around my limbs and pulling me into their world. To add to that, ‘the journey’ is my favourite type of YA plot. I like the way that strange new places and people constantly bring uncertainty, surprise, hope and danger to the story, even if that sometimes makes the book discomforting to read. I like the demands that journey put on the characters, testing their strengths, forcing them to face up to their weaknesses, or teaching them new skills. Then, when they find a sanctuary in the midst of all their hardships, you feel just as relieved and happy as they do. Journeys are a source of both delight and torment, sometimes at the same time, and Death of a Saint does this one perfectly.
I enjoyed the story so much that I didn’t mind that they didn’t really learn much about the Guardians or fight the Resurrectionists. This was one of my major problems with the first book because it seemed like the most important and interesting stuff was being ignored. It’s a different case in Death of a Saint. The Mall Rats face these issues at the beginning, but once they’re on the road it makes sense for them to deal with the many other problems that arise.
Zombies, oddly enough, aren’t really one of those problems. Most Rotters don’t attack the Mall Rats, so they seldom have to fight them. Instead, Lele and the others tend to show them compassion rather than hostility. When a Rotter wanders into their camp at the beginning, Ginger gently chases him away instead of chopping his head off. On the road, they find a zombie who’s been dangling from a bungee cord for the last decade, feel sorry for him, and cut him loose. It disturbs them when they see how humans have made some of the Rotters suffer, and there’s a growing question of whether the Rotters still have some humanity left.
Humans, on the other hand, are the ones who pose the greatest danger. As in most post-apocalyptic stories, the breakdown of civilisation has made many people savage and cruel. Or really, really weird. Everyone has to be ready for a fight, not just with the Rotters, but with people who’d rob you, rape you, or kill you. Some show kindness and generosity, but with scarce resources, no one is looking for extra mouths to feed.
There’s less action than in Deadlands, I think, but fans of the first book shouldn’t worry – there’s still plenty to get your blood pumping and anyway, I think this story is more exciting with its ever-present sense of danger and uncertainty. Plus the characters are more engaging and there are some new ones I think you’d like. The writing is better, the structure is better – honestly, I couldn’t have asked for a better sequel. My only disappointment is that they changed the cover from the cool creepy style of the Deadlands one, to this YA cliché. The title wouldn’t have been my first choice, but there are still plenty of surprises and a cliffhanger ending to whet your appetite for the final book – The Army of the Left. Kudos Lily Herne – you guys did an awesome job.