REVIEW: Dust & Decay (Benny Imura #2) by Jonathan Maberry

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars, Genre: Fiction/ Young Adult/ Zombies, Pages: 528, Level: Easy

Book Description from Barnes & Noble:

“Six months have passed since the terrifying battle with Charlie Pink-eye and the Motor City Hammer in the zombie-infested mountains of the Rot & Ruin. It’s also six months since Benny Imura and Nix Riley saw something in the air that changed their lives. Now, after months of rigorous training with Benny’s zombie-hunter brother Tom, Benny and Nix are ready to leave their home forever and search for a better future. Lilah the Lost Girl and Benny’s best friend Lou Chong are going with them.

Sounds easy. Sounds wonderful. Except that everything that can go wrong does. Before they can even leave there is a shocking zombie attack in town. But as soon as they step into the Rot & Ruin they are pursued by the living dead, wild animals, insane murderers and the horrors of Gameland- where teenagers are forced to fight for their lives in the zombie pits. Worst of all…could the evil Charlie Pink-eye still be alive?

In the great Rot & Ruin everything wants to kill you. Everything… and not everyone in Benny’s small band of travelers will make it out alive.”

Wow. Just wow. The second book in the Benny Imura Series, Dust & Decay is even more fantastic than Rot & Ruin!

I read a lot of reviews criticizing this series because it is not just a slash ’em up, head chopping zombie story. In addition, some readers think Maberry is preaching with all his ‘zombies are people too’ speeches. I actually found that to be a nice change of pace. The Benny Imura series imagines a wide spectrum of issues that may result from this unfortunate situation, which are typically ignored by other books in this sub-genre. Remember, this series doesn’t take place at the moment of the apocalypse; it takes place many years later as society is trying to find its way back. People are just trying to live their lives as normally as possible under extraordinary circumstances.

Relationships continue. Benny and Nix’ relationship progresses. Lilah tries to adjust to living with others again. And everyone has to find a way to live with the scars of past experiences.

Tom continues his role as the conscience of the new world. He is without a doubt, the hero of Dust & Decay just as he was in Rot & Ruin. He performs his job out of necessity, with precision and respect.

There are a lot of close calls. For example, somehow escaping when surrounded by hundreds of zombies. Killing off all the main characters would end the series pretty quickly. However, Maberry doesn’t insult the reader by resorting to unbelievable circumstances. The zombies don’t attack one at a time and the author doesn’t make things convenient for the main characters. When they are out in the Ruin, they run into bad guys and zombies. They get cut. They get burned. They get the snot beat out of them. All this is not a matter of ‘if,’ it’s a matter of ‘when.’

Along the same lines, even though Dust & Decay takes place six months after the events in Rot & Ruin, Benny and his friends are not miraculously masters as is Tom. They still use the wooden sword or bokken. I would think the temptation to cheat and turn the characters into butt kicking samurais would be great, but the author refrains from such tactics. Yes it is more exciting to be shooting guns and chopping heads with actual swords, but it would indeed be cheating.

I am also impressed with how consistent the characters and storyline remain. Cadaverine is still commonly used to distract zombies. Lilah still booby traps her surroundings to announce any visitors. Nix still struggles with the loss of her mother. And Morgie still hurts from the fact that his feelings for Nix are not returned. Although the characters’ personalities pretty much remain the same, they do mature. Maberry manages to keep this level of consistency without sacrificing character maturity.

One of my favorite things about this series is the warped religious fanaticism to which some resort-

“Only the Children of Lazarus are pure of heart and immaculate of soul… They are the meek raised up from death to inherit this new Garden of Eden.” [Preacher Jack] opened his arms wide to include the green and overgrown expanse of the Rot and Ruin. “They have been reborn in the blood of the old world, washed clean of their sins, and they now walk in the light of redemption. It is only us, the dwindling few, who cling to old ways of sin and heresy and godlessness.” Creepy… I love creepy.

And the writing is phenomenal. Maberry can set a scene (A COUPLE OF TEENY SPOILERS)

“Then he kissed her. First, very lightly on the line of stitches that crossed her brow, and then more firmly on the lips.

She kissed him back, and it wasn’t merely reflex. She kissed him like she meant it. Then she stepped back and looked at him with green eyes that were filled with a thousand mysteries. For once Benny felt like he understood some of them.

He smiled and held out his hand, and Nix took it. Together they turned away from the charred graveyard of the dead and headed east. The road before them was tangled in weeds, but the sun glimmered like a promise on every blade of grass.”

To understand how amazing this scene is, try to visualize it. They are having an intensely intimate moment right in the middle of hundreds of charred zombie bodies and body parts. The sharp contrast is mind-boggling. This could be a classroom assignment- read this excerpt and write a paper about the symbolism of the scene and the contrast between what is happening and the backdrop. Can you imagine this book as assigned reading? That teacher would be AWESOME!

It continues-

“As they walked away they did not see the figure that stepped from behind a stand of fire-blackened pines. It was a tall man. Thin as a scarecrow in a black coat, with white hair that fluttered in the hot wind. He watched the two teenagers as they walked along the road.

The man moved as silently as a shadow as he crossed the field to the way station. He stopped and those cold eyes read the message written in the soot. His lips moved as he read the words, and then he chuckled softly to himself.

He stood for a long time with his lips pursed, considering the words. Then he used the hard, flat palm of his hand to wipe them out. All that remained was a smear of soot. The figure turned and looked at the road. Nix and Benny were tiny dots now, and as he watched they vanished into the far woods.

The man smiled and, quiet as death, followed.”

Again, just visualize that. Can you see Sam Elliot? I so want them to make these into movies and I want Preacher Jack to be Sam Elliot! This is some good writing. (END OF TEENY SPOILERS)

I believe there will be four books in this series. One of my concerns is that Maberry will not be able to continue this level of writing through to the end. I was skeptical that Dust & Decay could be as good as Rot & Ruin and it turned out to be better. I am afraid that after being blown away by Dust & Decay, I am doomed to disappointment. Here’s to hoping I’m wrong…

Reviewed by Christina

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