Kicking Zombie Butt: A Review of Death of a Saint by Lily Herne
Death of a Saint is the second in the Mall Rats horror series by South African writing phenomenon Lily Herne, which is the pen name for the composite efforts of a local mother-and-daughter writing team, Sarah and Savannah Lotz. It follows chillingly on where Deadlands (published in 2011) left off.
In Deadlands we met Lele de la Fontein, a 17-year-old girl exiled from her home in the Cape Town “enclave”, all that’s left of the city after a zombie apocalypse. She’s taken in by a gang of teenagers known as the Mall Rats, made up of the handsome Ash, the giant British orphan Ginger and the feisty Saint.
The kids survive in the Deadlands, which is the wild, zombie-infested area outside the enclave, and exist by raiding what’s left of Century City mall to sell back to the Resurrectionists, the dead-worshipping society ruled by the mysterious Guardians, and the very people who spat them out in the first place.
As an outsider, Lele not only learns to kick zombie butt, but also discovers that the home she left behind is riddled with corruption, and that the so-called Guardians were responsible for the grisly practice of sacrifice that lurks behind their self-righteous façade. By the end of the novel, Lele had more questions than answers.
Death of a Saint picks up where Deadlands left off. The Mall Rats travel outside of Cape Town to find other survivors, picking up new friends, including the pretty redhead Ember, a cute baby hyena named Bambi, and the mysterious Lucien, who reveals a shocking truth about Ash’s past.
Lele has grown into a self-confident young woman, although her feelings for Ash bring plenty of confusion. We get to know Saint better, too, who is still dealing with the loss of her girlfriend. But young love is the last thing on anyone’s mind when the group falls into a trap that has devastating consequences for one of them.
Herne has masterfully created a fictional war-torn South Africa that is slowly being reclaimed by nature. As the Mall Rats travel the pot-holed roads, discovering what’s left of the country, the novel acts like a tourist guide to a future dystopian South Africa. Knynsa is repopulated with elephants. The Mall Rats visit the burnt-out remains of Port Elizabeth, its coast littered with the walking dead, and a Grahamstown turned ghost town.
The novel’s real story lies in the lives of the teen exiles, told with meticulous detail. It was a joy to be able to get under the characters’ skin. What also sets the series apart is its no-holds-barred treatment of contemporary South Africa, including its melting pot of cultures. From race to religion to sexual orientation and politics, it’s all there. With the exception of a few prognostications and pop cultural references, I would call the novel faultless and leaves you eager for the next instalment. The publisher has anticipated this and included an excerpt from the third book.
The Mall Rats series is a proudly South African youth series that is worthy to be ranked among the likes of Twilight and The Hunger Games.
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