Friday, 11 March 2011
Review: Rot and Ruin by Jonathan Maberry
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Released: March 3rd, 2011
Grade rating: A-
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...
Zombies have never been my favourite paranormal creature, if that's what you'd call them. I'm more into bloodsucking vampires than flesh-eating decomposing people, and haven't had the best relationship with YA zombie books in the past. I'm not really a fan of the comedic or romantic living dead, which is all I've come across so far. Until I read Rot and Ruin, that is. This book doesn't include zombies keen on talking or flirting (shudder), but rather zombies hellbent on killing any human they can. In other words, the living dead are back, and they're back in style.
Rot and Ruin is a post-apocalyptic, edge-of-your-seat thriller that just happens to take place in a world where most of the population are dead. No-one knows exactly what caused it, whether it was a plague or something similar, they just know it's happened. Fences keep them safely away in the rot and ruin, and allow a small amount of humans to go about their lives in whichever way they choose. For Benny and Tom Imura, that means hanging out with friends and killing zombies, respectively. Benny's the 15-year-old smart ass, while his older brother Tom is the one with the responsibility and useful weapons. When Tom gives Benny the opportunity to join him in the family business, all hell breaks loose. Quite literally, too.
What follows in this 458-page novel is an epic journey in search of The Lost Girl, numerous meetings with the walking dead and a kick-ass collection of zombie trading cards. It's all go in the future, don'tcha know? Things have changed dramatically; the world is empty, human company is a luxury and death lurks around every corner. The monsters in Benny's life are real, and there's no escape. It's a lonely existence, but one that their small group accept and get on with. There's no 'woe is me' speech cluttering every other page, and it's all the better for it. It is how it is, and it ain't changing any time soon.
Rot and Ruin explores monsters in the literal sense, but also in the subtler sense too. Benny soon learns that not all killers are reanimated corpses, and that humans are capable of bone-chilling horrors too. A place called Gameland is proof of this, and plays a large part in Benny's travels through the rot and ruin. I hope we see a lot more of Gameland in the next book, Dust and Decay, and I have a feeling we will. It's a terrifying concept, but one that obviously has a bigger story waiting to be told.
Rot and Ruin is the best zombie book I've ever read, and I think I'll be hard pressed to beat it. I wouldn't have minded it being a bit shorter but, on reflection, this world needed to be set up and described in great detail. Without it, the desolation and despair wouldn't have hit me as hard, and that would have been a great shame. Jonathan Maberry has gifted YA readers with an exciting, fresh look at a race of creatures that seemed to be forgotten in teen fiction, and he's succeeded in making me a fan. I really can't wait for Dust and Decay!