Rot & Ruin

Rot and Ruin

Author: Jonathan Maberry

Publication: 2010, Simon and Schuster

Pages: 464

Overall Rating:  bth_5-star-rating_zps467d5332[1]                      

Rating for Action: bth_5-star-rating_zps467d5332[1]

Quantity of Action: bth_4-star-rating_zps38e772a0[1]

Age Category: 13+

Brief Summary: Benny Imura is a survivor of the zombie apocalypse.  His California town is surrounded by fences, and on the other side lies the great Rot and Ruin – a zombie infested wasteland.  At 15, it’s time for him to take a job.  But he quickly discovers that he doesn’t want to work at repairing the fences or making bottles of cadavering – which smells like ‘essence of dead’ and helps hide you from zombies.  With no other choice, he becomes an apprentice to his older brother, Tom, who many consider to be one of the toughest zombie killers and bounty hunters around.  But to Benny, Tom’s just the coward who let their mom get eaten on First Night.  He’s embarrassed to be Tom’s younger brother and eagerly follows the exploits of other bounty hunters, like Charlie Pinkeye and the Motor City Hammer.

All too soon, however, Benny discovers that zombies are far different than he’d ever imagined, that being a bounty hunter takes as much compassion as courage, and that much of what he thought he knew about Tom and the other bounty hunters was wrong.  As Benny and Tom head out into the great Rot and Ruin to avenge the death of a friend and search out the elusive Lost Girl, he will come face-to face with the worst that the wasteland has to offer, and survival may be just out of reach.

Age of Main Character: 15

What I Liked the Most: There are a lot of zombie books out there, but Rot & Ruin stands out from the rest of the pack for the way it manages to humanize the living dead.  Zombies aren’t just a horror – though there are plenty of times when Benny has to fight his way through them.  Zombies used to be people, and through Tom, Benny learns to have compassion for them, to remember that every zombie in the wasteland was once a real person.  Benny’s first trip into the Rot and Ruin was eye opening because of the way that Tom approaches his job.  He’s not out to waste as many zombies as he can.  He’s not a killer. Instead, he brings closure for the living, by ‘quieting’ their zombie relatives in the most humane way possible, usually dispatching them in their homes after reading them a letter from their loved ones.  This was touching in its own way, and provided a humanizing contrast to the blood and mayhem that comes later in the book.

Even though this a zombie novel, zombies aren’t the real enemy in this book.  And while they can be a very real threat, Maberry has created a far more frightening human antagonist to focus on.  And one of the ways he vilifies his antagonist is by showing the disrespectful way that the man treats the living dead.  It’s a great turn-around for a zombie novel.

What I Liked the Least: This is one of those cases where it feels nitpicky to point out things I didn’t like.  But one small thing does come to mind.  Benny feels like his brother, Tom, was a coward for not saving their mom on First Night when the dead rose up.  He’s hated Tom for that all his life.  Fair enough.  But I felt like Maberry kept coming back to this over and over, right up until the very end of the book, even though in scene after scene Tom acts in ways that should have been enough to convince Benny he was wrong.  It was enough to make me want to shout – come on, enough already!

How Good was the Action? Out of this world.  Maberry may do an outstanding job humanizing the zombies in this book, but don’t take that to mean that he’s created a touch-feely zombie novel.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  By the end of the story, Benny and his friends have descended deep into the depths of violence, and the final confrontation is one of the best I’ve ever read.  Maberry deftly weaves together brutal blow-by-blow action with just the right balance of raw emotion and narrative to create intense scenes that draw you in without ever feeling repetitive.

How Engaging was the Story?   In the same way Maberry humanizes the living dead, he also takes a story that could have been nothing but a gore spattered adventure and gives it character and emotional depth.  I was drawn into Benny’s character right from the start.  For a while, I wasn’t sure I particularly liked him, but I was drawn to him.  And by the time we’d gotten to page 100 I’d come to really care about him.  And it’s not just Benny.  Maberry does an equally good job with all the supporting characters – Tom, Benny’s friends Chong and Nix, Rob, and the Lost Girl.  I got drawn into the emotional ups and downs of their relationships, and into Benny’s inexplicable need to try and save the Lost Girl.

Overall Assessment: This is one zombie book you don’t want to miss.  In my opinion, it’s the finest, most comprehensive zombie novel to-date.

Profanity: Yes.  And some of it is fairly rough.

Sex: Not really. There are a few kisses here and there and maybe a bit of light fantasizing, but that’s about it.

Violence:  Yes, and much of it is quite graphic.  Whether it’s killing zombies or killing people, there’s a lot of death in this story and it tends to be up close and very personal.

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