Tuesday, 15 March 2011
Review: Rot and Ruin by Jonathan Maberry
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...
Let's face it.... zombies are cool right now and seem to have become the monster of choice for writers of teen fiction. However, just as there was something of an anti-vampire backlash a year or so ago, I am sure there will already be a number of people asking whether the world really needs another new YA zombie story. The answer is yes, and that book is Rot and Ruin by Jonathan Maberry.
Mr Maberry is entering a difficult market in this country, as we are already two books into Charlie Higson's outstanding The Enemy zombie series, and therefore any newcomers to the genre will have to face the inevitable comparison with Higson's books. In the case of Rot and Ruin the comparison is very favourable indeed - where Higson's stories are blood-soaked, gore-filled post-apocalypse kids versus adults survival stories, Maberry's story is something completely different and brings a much welcome freshness to the genre. Somehow he has managed to create a zombie story with heart and soul, where the undead, and the obligatory gore and horror that come with them, are present but taking a back seat to the two main themes: developing relationship between two brothers; and the evils that man will commit in the name of survival and personal gain.
In this author's world humans have to a degree conquered the zombie menace by creating settlements surrounded by protective fences, complete with guard patrols and observation towers. Fifteen year old Benny Imura lives with his brother Tom, a respected (and feared) zombie killer, in one such settlement. Beyond the safety of the fence is the Rot and Ruin, a vast area of zombie-infested wilderness within which are the occasional isolated communities of humans striving to live some kind of normal life. The brothers' parents died at the start of the problems, a time now referred to as First Night, and since then Tom has been working hard to bring up his younger brother. However, now that Benny has 'come of age' he has to find a job if he wants to continue to receive food rations, and the first part of the story gives the reader a humorous observation of Benny's various attempts to find a job that a) he likes and b) will not take too much effort, most of the time accompanied by his close friend Chong. These early chapters also help give us a valuable insight into what life is like the the people of Mountainside as they try to cope with their very different world, and we also get to meet the key characters of the story that follows once Benny reluctantly decides that following his brother into the zombie-hunting trade is probably his only real option after all.
The scenes within Moutainside are the perfect foundations upon which the later story is built, as before Tom and Benny venture out into the Ruin as 'partners' we already know a great deal about them, although there is an air of mystery that follows the elder of the two brothers throughout most of the book. Important and enjoyable these early scenes are, it is when these two brothers are beyond the safety of the fence that this story really comes alive, but not just because of the horror and action scenes that ensue. Yes, these are very well written, and had my heart pounding at times, but in my mind they were still only secondary to the slowly growing bond between the two brothers, and the atrocities that other humans were committing out in the Rot and Ruin, often in the name of their own personal entertainment. We very quickly realise that the greatest danger facing the Imuras is not the bite of the undead, but the machinations of a group of their fellow humans, people so evil that at one point I actually felt sorry for some of the zombies - a first for me in a zombie story.
If you like zombie stories then this is a must buy for you. If you don't like zombie stories then this is still a must buy - yes it has some gory moments, and the occasional swear word, but it is much more than a horror story - it is a tale about two brothers working together to overcome a great evil, and a fantastic study in what makes us human in a world gone crazy. Rot and Ruin was published in the UK by Simon and Schuster at the beginning of March and my thanks go to them for sending me a copy to review. The sequel, Dust and Decay, is scheduled for a September 2011 release - I can't wait!