First published back in July of 2015, British author Duncan P. Bradshaw’s novel ‘Class Four: Those Who Survive’ formed the sequel to the author’s debut release – the zombie romp ‘Class Three’ (2014).

DLS Synopsis:
A number of months have now passed since the deadly virus swept across the globe, reanimating the dead and turning the walking corpses into flesh-hungry zombies.  Eking out an existence, Francis and eight-year-old Nathan (who Francis has sworn to protect) are looking for somewhere safe to hole-up at when their paths cross with Philip Taylor.  On a mission of his own, Philip tells the two survivors about the community that’s been set up in Rhayader.  It sounds like just the safe haven that they’ve been hoping for.  Somewhere away from the teaming hordes of the undead.  However, first they have to get there.  And the trek is a long one across a landscape plagued with flesh-hungry dead.

Meanwhile, a collection of survivors have holed up in the now derelict Netzach’s Biscuit factory out in the middle of nowhere.  Under the rule of ‘The Gaffer’ those that live within the factory’s confines must abide by his strict ruling or suffer the consequences.  For life is hard and there’s no room for those that don’t pull their weight.

However, the Gaffer knows that if he’s to be able to rely on others, they must be mentally right with this horrifying new world they’re all faced with.  To ensure this, he’s set up compulsory therapy sessions for the survivors to talk over their experiences and the horrors they have witnessed.  The stories are hard.  The tales are difficult to hear.  But they all have the reality of this new undead world in common.

But it’s not just the undead menace that they have to contend with.  The murderous Doomsday cult known as the Children of Ishtar are still at large and moving across the land; killing those they encounter as they go, to help purge the world of those left clinging to life.

And now the Children of Ishtar have their sights on their biggest purging yet.  There’s plenty more blood to be spilt across the landscape of Britain.  It’s a dog-eat-dog existence – and one where only the very strongest survive…

DLS Review:
This second instalment into Bradshaw’s ‘Class Three / Four’ series follows on very shortly from where ‘Class Three’ (2014) ended.  And although the novel is clearly a follow-on sequel, as it turns out, there’s not actually all that much that ties the two novels together.  Indeed just a shrunken handful of returning characters and the overall ‘zombie apocalypse’ premise link the two books – making ‘Class Four: Those Who Survive’ perfectly readable without having read ‘Class Three’ (2014) first.

One of the quirkiest things about the novel as a whole is undoubtedly the disjointed stitching together of the almost ‘isolated’ stories - all of which are loosely knitted together to form one complete tale.  Indeed, the plot is distinctly fragmented, with no easily identifiable standalone link weaving its way through them all, other than the general setting as a whole.

Interestingly, Bradshaw has chosen to use stylised font work and small pieces of illustrative imagery interspersed at random points throughout the length of the novel.  Not only does this break up the text quite satisfyingly, but also adds an extra visual dimension to the whole read.  And it’s one that certainly works in the novel’s favour.

What’s possibly the most interesting to see in the tale is how Bradshaw’s writing has evolved since writing his debut.  ‘Class Three’ (2014) was a zombie romp that embraced humour as much as it did blood, guts and zombie-nosh gore.  However, with this second book we see Bradshaw venturing into far darker turf; exploring the grimmer and more disturbing aspects of an undead apocalypse.  Yet, even with this newfound direction, Bradshaw somehow manages to flirt with black comedy wherever he can find a place to; quite miraculously not destroying the hard-boiled gruesomeness that he’s worked so hard to achieve.

Once again Bradshaw wears his influences on his sleeve.  There’s plenty of ‘The Walking Dead’ (2003 – present day) in there, some good old fashioned Romero keeping the traditional zombie vibe together, and a splash of David Moody’s ‘human element’ thrown in for good measure.  But if that’s not enough, Bradshaw dedicates a good thirty-or-so pages to a Clive Barker-meets-Tim Burton style interlude whereby we see our hardass heroes fighting off hand-stitched undead circus freaks one after the other.  It’s wacky zombie mayhem in the sort of unashamedly one-after-the-other pulp style that can be seen in the likes of Pierce Nace’s ‘Eat Them Alive’ (1977).

And that haphazard shovelling together of stories and character perspectives is what’s at the heart of the very novel.  It doesn’t feel like one complete story.  Instead it feels like a patchwork of events that are sewn shoulder-to-shoulder with one another.  Like Moody’s ‘Autumn: The Human Condition’ (2005), there’s a zombie theme that links it all together, but other than that, it’s a sticker book of death, reanimation, desperation, violence and brutal murder.

What’s really great about the whole thing is that Bradshaw’s somehow managed to make it all work.  Not for one second will you become restless with the novel.  There’s barely a second that goes by without some undead (or otherwise) threat looming.  Furthermore, Bradshaw’s well-and-truly raised the ante on the violence and dark horror.  Furthermore the comedy’s all bittersweet with the constantly oppressive gloom of loss overshadowing it.  And the characters come out fighting from all the corners – ready to raise hell over and over again.

The novel runs for a total of 243 pages.

© DLS Reviews

Other ‘Class Three Apocalypse’ instalments:

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