Written by: Jonathan Maberry
Hardcover: 464 pages
Publisher: Simon and Shuster
September 2010, $17.99
Genre: Young Adult Fiction/Zombies
Nearly fourteen years ago a freak virus swept across the world turning those infected from the living into the undead. Benny Imura has grown-up never knowing anything different; his last memories of his parents tainted by the image of them becoming zombies. Now Benny is fifteen, and his brother Tom wants him to join the "family business" and train as a zombie killer. The last thing Benny wants is to work with Tom --- but at least the job should be an easy ride. Then the brothers head into the Rot and Ruin, an area full of wandering zombies, and Benny realises that being a bounty hunter isn't just about whacking zombies. As he's confronted with the truths about the world around him, Benny finds his beliefs challenged and makes the most terrifying discovery of all, that sometimes the worst monsters you can imagine, are human...
Anyone who knows me, or at least if you’ve been reading Confessions long enough, know that I dig zombies. Yes, I know they are the new craze (anyone excited about the World War Z movie that is currently being filmed), but I would rather have desiccated flesh than sparkly vampires any day. Point is I love zombies so I was excited that we chose Rot N Ruin from YA book club. It has been sitting in my TBR pile for at least 6 months or more. And the closer I get to autumn, apparently the more I want to read about the zombie apocalypse. Apparently the other girls in book club were excited to read this as well. Though we latter learned that some of them would be utterly screwed if Z day happened. Natalie did say that we can siphon her gas though if we would be so kind to kill her as she will undoubtedly be a zombie. I figure I would do okay. I have camping gear, live in a two story place near the mountains in Montana, own a nice selection of swords and blades, and have at least 2 weeks’ worth of food in my pantry. Though no one can tell how you really would react if it came to pass.
Now with most apocalyptic stories I always find myself wanting to know more about what happens later than I do the actual First Night or even first months or years. Its how society changes with the aftermath, how the way of life we cling to so desperately will undoubtedly cease to exist. Now I have been disappointed in young adult fiction of late. Maybe it is because I am getting older and *gasp* have ceased to relate to the average 15 or 16 year old. For me YA fiction has been frivolous and boring with its prose. I don’t relate to the one dimensional characters and I swear I was neither than vapid or completely shallow like so many main heroes and heroines. I am not sure what I was expecting with Rot N Ruin. Probably more of the same. An Empty but with zombies. I was very pleasantly surprised.
The story begins nearly 15 years after the First Night when the dead no longer stayed dead. Benny has just turned fifteen and finally must choose a profession and join the ranks of the adults or he gets his rations cut in half. He is moody, petulant and knows only one thing….the zombs ruined everything. He was only a baby when the dead refused to stay that way. And all he can remember is that his brother ran away leaving their mom and dad. It doesn’t matter that Tom Imura is one of the best zombie hunters in their town or even area. Benny doesn’t think he is all that especially since he seems to try to avoid violence at all costs not like cool zombie hunters like Charlie Pink-Eye and the Motor City Hammer. Benny tries every other profession, but in the end he becomes his older brother’s apprentice and not only learns the truth about his heroes, but that sometimes the worst monsters in this world are the ones still living.
Things I loved: I wasn’t sure if I was going to like this, especially after reading the first couple of chapters and seeing the “zombie” cards in the front of the book. But I absolutely loved the world Mayberry created. It’s a world 15 years after the zombie apocalypse where two brothers are trying to survive. Normally when you read about zombies, it is all about survival. The zombies are just flesh eating monsters. You are trained to forget that they were once people. It is an us vs them mentality. So while yes, there is a need to clear outlying areas for trade routes, etc, but what is the real purpose of a zombie hunter? The crisis for the most part has passed. Now what do you do once the dust has settled? Now I think if given a choice I don’t think anyone would want to be all zombified. And every zombie in this book was once a person. Admittedly like Benny I had an idea of what the zombie hunters did. I was biased. Then I started thinking about the emotional ramifications, the social, and the spiritual of the First Night. Tom Imura recognizes that each of those souls that he hunts and then peacefully lays to rest was once a father, brother, sister, mother, friend. Their lives were taken from them. So he strives to put them to rest and finally give both the dead…and the living a sense of peace. It’s a hard job. One that would test the limits of anyone. With carpet coats, rendered zombies that forms a liquid to mask your scent, religious cults that fight for zombie rights, and rules of the zombies (such as they gravitate downhill really makes this world seem real. The zombies here are not just a plot device nor are they merely some scary little set decorations. They serve a purpose in the story and because of them we get to see character growth. Exciting.
I also loved that this was less about horror of the zombies, but more about the horror of the humans still living. Humans can be cruel. Sometimes we are worse than the monsters we tell ourselves don’t exist. But let’s face it evil exists. I see it when I watch the news. Which is probably why I don’t watch the news all that much. And after the dust of First Night has ended, who do you think became the hunters. Not your average cubicle worker. I don’t know how to shoot gun. And I would have a hard time killing anything even if it was a zombie because lets face it would still have a face. It would still be human shaped. So I think it would take a certain sort of person to be a zombie hunter. There would be those who would get a perverse thrill, enjoy the freedom of killing and then there would be others like Tom. In a way Charlie and Hammer remind me of the biker from Falling Skies. When the aliens attacked, he had guns, bikes, and knew how to fight back. He’s in charge, not the CEO or the housewife or even the mechanic. He will do what the polite folks will not. But he is not a good man, neither are Charlie and Hammer. It’s not hard to believe that a thug suddenly not only feel that he deserves a free pass on everything, but that normal folks will let him have it because they need him to survive and keep that other world out of their deluded existence safe behind walls and gates.
This is Benny’s story but I cannot help but think that this is Tom Imura’s story as well. He has sheltered his little brother from so much in an effort to protect him. But everyone must grow up and realize that not everything is as it seems. Everyone needs to discover who they are, what their place is in this world and find out what matters and what doesn’t. While yes I do have my zombie plan, I am 88% sure that I will probably die. Mostly because I would be that idiot who wouldn’t notice that my neighbor is looking pasty or have the good sense to use someone I didn’t like as bait and trip him at the right moment. I also know that I want to live. So, if Z day happens I need to find myself a nice sweet samurai like Tom Imura to be all sweet on me. Or Simon Baker’s character from Land of the Dead. You understand what I am saying. I’d even become besties with Lilah because any girl who keeps a cave full of books after the zombie apocalypse needs to be my new BFF.
I also want to applaud Maberry for writing some decent female characters. Nix is not your typical damsel in distress and Lilah certainly is not. It was nice to have that small balance between the largely male cast.
Things I didn't love so much: More of a nitpick. The writing for Benny seems fairly young almost as if Mayberry wanted to write for the Harry Potter age group with his protagonist being more like 12 than the 15 he is supposed to be. Maybe he had to change the age due to the serious violence, themes, etc by his publisher. Maybe he forgot what it was like to be a teenager. Who knows? I do know what I was like when I was 15, despite being the fairly shy, bookish, half tomboy, half artsy little darling. I noticed boys. Yes, probably a bit self-involved and I hate the whole world sort of attitude….I blame it on hormones. But Benny’s age seemed to change with each chapter. I can seem him being this petulant, rebellious young teenager, but only noticing girls for the first time? Really? Plus he has introspective, yes I can see him as a teenager trying to figure out what is real and what isn’t in his world, really discovering who he is, then acting like a ten year old about a pack of zombie trading cards. It was just too up and down as far as the writing goes for him at least in regards to his age. I just couldn’t buy it half of the time.
Also I really didn’t feel that Nix and Benny had any chemistry, so their little romance was a little flat for me. Again I think this is largely due to the writing of Benny as a fifteen year old boy that seemed like a 12 year old a lot of the time. There are some good moments with the romance though such as Benny not understanding why Lilah staring at him in the hey, you’re a guy sort of way might bother Nix.
Some of the characters are a bit flat at the beginning of the book such as Charlie and Hammer who are more idiots with guns rather than cold calculating kidnappers and zombie killers. After all they did start Gameland (which reminds me far too much of the Hunger Games but with zombies, not that this is bad…just saying).
In the end there wasn’t too much of the bad minus some minor plot holes, nit picks. I imagine some of these might get answered in the next book so I wont dwell on them.
Buy or Borrow: Buy. If you are a zombie fan and if you enjoyed other books such as The Forest of Hands and Teeth, this would be good addition to your library.
Part of: A series. Dust and Decay (Book 2) is out now.
Also Recommended: The Forest of Hands and Teeth and the rest of the series by Carrie Ryan, The Walking Dead comic series by Robert Kirkman, Patient Zero also by Maberry.
3.75 out of 4 happy bibliosnark bookmarks