Rot and Ruin
Simon & Schuster
Benny Imura is fifteen; it’s time for him to get a job and start earning his food rations, but he doesn’t seem to be able to hold down a job. Eventually (as the great first line states), out of options, Benny decides to apprentice with his brother Tom. Tom’s a bounty hunter, but he’s not like other bounty hunters, big, tale-telling men who Benny admires. Tom is quiet, unassuming, and, in Benny’s eyes, a coward. When Tom takes Benny from the safety of Mountainside into the wilds of the Rot & Ruin, however, Benny discovers that the world is a more complicated place than he ever imagined.
There are some things I liked about this book, and some things that troubled me. I’ll start with the world building, which is awesome. It’s always fun to see how authors interpret zombies and the apocalypse in their own way, and Maberry doesn’t disappoint here. The first couple of chapters, in which Benny is searching for a job, provide a glimpse into life in the safe haven of Mountainside. There’s no electricity, for example, not because they can’t build small generators, but because religious groups believe technology was the cause of the zombie apocalypse. Benny’s friends have jobs watching the border fences, or drawing what are essentially police sketches of how friends and family might look post-zombification. The zombies are scary, but only scary enough to make the real villains seem that much worse. The contrast between the organized, easy life in town and the wildness of the Rot and Ruin provides fertile ground for an ongoing discussion between Tom and Benny about fear and denial.
Benny is a very real teenaged boy, which makes him 1) kind of annoying 2) kind of gross and 3) pretty fun to read. Benny’s growth was the most interesting part of the story for me. Unfortunately, his brother Tom doesn’t have the same kind of depth, and while I really enjoyed Tom’s gentle, Zen take on zombies, his moralizing and general perfectness* got old after a while. I liked watching him and Benny stumble toward some kind of recognition of each other, but I wish that Tom had been a more complex character. The whole book, in fact, felt just a little long. I also didn’t buy the relationship between Benny and his love interest, Nix. This might be because I wasn’t ever a teenage boy, so I found it hard to believe that Benny could spend a bunch of time staring at Nix’s boobs but still deny that he was interested in her. Their chemistry never really sparked for me, and I was a little annoyed by Nix’s damsel-in-distress story line in the second half of the book.
Overall, an exciting and thought-provoking read, and although I’m not rushing to pick up the sequel, I’ll be recommending this one to series-fiends and zombie-lovers.
Rot & Ruin won a 201o Cybil for YA Fantasy & Science Fiction.
Check out Leila’s take at bookshelves of doom.
*SPOILER: to the point where, when Tom “dies,” I was like, uh, no way, and not because I was sad – just because it was really obvious to me that Tom was too perfect to be defeated and would definitely come back to save the day.