Maberry, Jonathan. Rot & Ruin (2010). 458 Pages. Simon & Schuster. $17.99
Benny Imura has only vague memories of the night his parents died. What he does remember paints a bleak picture; his father was a zombie, his mother facing imminent death, and his brother was the coward who took him and ran, leaving their parents behind. Despite what everyone seems to think about Tom Imura, Benny knows the truth; his brother is a coward.
On Benny’s fifteenth birthday, he becomes an “adult,” and has six weeks to find a job, or his rations will be cut in half. With hunger looming, and the best jobs long gone, Benny turns to his brother, Tom the Bounty Hunter– zombie killer for hire– to ask for a job. He doesn’t want to join the “family business” but doesn’t see any alternatives.
What he learns about the world outside his town’s fences– the Rot & Ruin– and about his brother will change Benny’s life forever.
Benny Imura couldn’t hold a job, so he took to killing.
It was the family business. He barely liked his family– and by family he meant his older brother, Tom– and he definitely didn’t like the idea of “business.” Or work. The only part of the deal that sounded like it might be fun was the actual killing.
I will warn you now that while it takes a little bit to build, it picks up its pace pretty fast, and by Part Three you’re on the edge of your seat and won’t want to put the book down. If you start reading, save yourself some agony and be sure you’ve got time.
Benny is the sort of character who obviously needs to grow up. He’s fifteen, inexperienced, and lazy. He whines a lot, and has a skewed view of the world around him. He has issues with his brother, misplaced anger, and a few loyal friends. In the zombie*-infested wasteland that the world has become, Benny’s got a lot of room to do his growing up in.
The other protagonists, most notably his brother, add a lot to the story. Though (almost) everything we read is filtered through Benny, we get to see a lot about them that Benny doesn’t see**. Despite the fact that his world is bleak, his friends and his brother are far from hopeless. They are the generation that might be able to change everything, to begin to reclaim the world.
On that note, I have to say that I was fascinated by the world Maberry built. It’s your classic post-zombie wasteland, but there’s more to it than that. It’s a world where many of the occupants are without hope, much of the population has been decimated, and mankind hides behind fences***, but not everyone is completely cowed. There are the Bounty Hunters, and then the youth. The children of this world have grown up knowing zombies existed, knowing how to deal with them, and while cautious of them, are not as inclined to panic as their parents were. Because of them, there is hope for this world’s future.
When all is said and done, it’s a zombie novel, a horror story, which delves into humanity. What, exactly, does it mean to be human in a world full of zombies? What hope do we have if we lose our humanity but manage to stay alive? It’s done brilliantly in terms of execution; the characters grow, the world feels real, it’s got depth and meaning and dimension, the writing is great, and the tone perfect. It scores a perfect 5/5, and the urging that if you even like horror novels, or zombie stories, that you take the time to read it.
Also, I now need to own this book, and when the rest of what is obviously going to become a series is published, I’ll need to own that, too.
* These zombies are the classic Romero Zombie, light on brains and coordination, heavy on hunger.
** At times, we see it because we are on the “outside,” like with movies, where you’re shouting “don’t open the door!” to the scantily clad horror movie character, but they do anyway, and you know something is going to grab them.
*** I’ve seen a couple references to Carrie Ryan’s The Forest of Hands and Teeth which I just got, and am about to read. I’ll get back to you on that comparison after I’ve read her book.