Rot & Ruin ★★★★★
Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, 2010
I have been on a zombie reading frenzy lately – I see a zombie book and I must read it, I can’t help myself. And the books are coming fast and furious, especially in the YA area. Some are good, some are awful, and some are outstanding. Jonathan Maberry’s Rot and Ruin falls somewhere just shy of outstanding. It reeks of EPIC WIN.
So yeah, I love this book and before I go all fangirl over Tom Imura and squee my head off let me highlight why you should start this series:
1) It is very well-written — that’s not always a given, even from talented authors — see my review of David Moody’s Autumn: The City. Moody is the man, but even he can write a zombie novel that sucks. Maberry has already established his reputation in the horror genre (his Ghost Road Blues snagged him a Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel). This is his YA debut and I’m impressed to say the least.
2) It is a highly charged, emotional story where some heavy shit goes down and you really fucking care who it’s happening to. This comes back to the all-important character development. I don’t scare if I don’t care, and I cared plenty here (even about the zombies!!!) Through the eyes of 15 yr old Benny Imura, we come to understand that zombies are not just mindless monsters out to gouge and consume humans. We see the tragedy of what they’ve become. Benny’s older brother Tom forces him to confront who they used to be:
Look at that woman. She was, what? Eighteen years old when she died. Might have been pretty. Those rags she’s wearing might have been a waitress’s uniform once….She had people at home who loved her….People who worried when she was late getting home.
So the zombies are not just plot devices or mere window dressing here; they serve a real purpose and are an important part of the story.
3) It’s a fascinating examination of what fear does to people. Just imagine a world that survives an actual zombie apocalypse. As groups of survivors ban together in fenced enclaves to try and eke out a semi-normal existence, who will these people become? How will they interact with each other, with the world that’s left to them? I know it’s a personal bias of mine, but I figure a zombie novel hasn’t done its job if it doesn’t convincingly show that humans can be the real monsters. Maberry hits that out of the park and I want to smooch him for it.
They held each other and wept as the night closed its fist around their tiny shelter, and the world below them seethed with killers both living and dead.
4) Tom Imura – squeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! It’s been a long time since I’ve been this excited over a character from a book and reading as much YA as I do, most male protagonists are still battling hormones and attitude. But not Tom. Tom is in his 30s. He is a survivor. He is a specialist. He has been forged in battle and now is as strong and unbending as his katana – the Japanese long sword he uses. In a world that has been plunged into Hell and lived to tell about it he has retained his humanity. He is deep and soulful and will kick your ass in 2 seconds flat. He’s a mix of Master Li Mu Bai from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Morpheus from The Matrix, and my beloved Dean Winchester from Supernatural. How could a girl NOT fall in love?
For all these reasons and more five stars and HIGHEST POSSIBLE RECOMMENDATION!