REVIEW: Rot & Ruin (Benny Imura #1) by Jonathan Maberry

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars, Genre: Fiction/ Horror/ Young Adult/ Zombies, Pages: 458, Level: Easy

Book Description from Barnes & Noble:

In the zombie-infested, post-apocalyptic America where Benny Imura lives, every teenager must find a job by the time they turn fifteen or get their rations cut in half. Benny doesn’t want to apprentice as a zombie hunter with his boring older brother Tom, but he has no choice. He expects a tedious job whacking zoms for cash, but what he gets is a vocation that will teach him what it means to be human.

Benny Imura lives in Mountainside, a community that is fenced off from the Rot & Ruin, or zombie infested land outside the fence. At age 15, each individual must find a job or suffer the reduction of rations by 50%. After considering other options, Benny decides to train and work with his brother to be a bounty hunter, or as Tom prefers to call it, a ‘closure specialist.’ Benny will soon learn the difference between the two, finally leave the relative safety of Mountainside to experience the terrors of the Ruin and come face to face with something worse than zombies.

In Rot & Ruin, Jonathan Maberry sets a wonderfully imaginative landscape full of love, endurance, humor, passion, terror and despair that is set in the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse. I was stunned at how incredible this book was and absolutely cannot do it justice in this review, but I’ll give it my best shot.

The writing is phenomenal. I don’t want to include spoilers, so I won’t quote from the book; you’re just going to have to trust me on this one. Well-deserved kudos go out to authors who write books that bring tears to my eyes. In addition, while this book is not as scary as other zombie books I have read, it did make me regret reading it at night. I am a little ashamed to say that I did go to sleep one night with the television and all the lights on.

I would now like to comment on the tone of the book, which is the basis of some unfavorable reviews. Rot & Ruin is obviously a book about the zombie apocalypse. However, it shows a point of view I think is uncommon- that zombies are not just monsters, but used to be actual human beings. Therefore zombies should not be mistreated for entertainment; this attitude is not for the benefit of zombies, but rather for the benefit of survivors, most of whom have friends and family who were turned. While AMC’s The Walking Dead addressed this issue, in my opinion, few books, television shows or movies in this genre tackle it as successfully as Maberry does.

Does this mean there will be a huge zombie love fest in Rot & Ruin? Of course not. Zombies still want to eat you and therefore must be killed when necessary. But Benny’s brother takes no joy from it. Rather, he approaches it as a necessary fact of life that deserves a professional and respectful attitude. And that also doesn’t mean blood and guts are scarce. There is plenty of zombie chopping and human munching gore to enjoy.

If you are anything like me, I am sure you have at least once in your life read a zombie book and yelled, “But zombies wouldn’t do that!” or, “That doesn’t make any sense!” I think we can all agree the zombie sub-genre has to rely on quite a bit of imagination. That doesn’t mean the mechanics of a zombie apocalypse should be ignored and Mayberry does a great job of establishing an intellectual and strategic approach to avoiding or killing zombies:

“It’s a gravity thing. Unless a zom is following prey, if it’s walking, it’ll follow the path of least resistance. They don’t walk well, as you know. It’s more of a stagger, like they’re constantly falling forward and catching themselves with their next step. So if there’s any kind of slant to the ground, they’ll naturally follow it. In the Ruin we have to be careful in valleys and downlands. You’re ten times more likely to see a zom on the lowlands than in the hills…”

And these kinds of observations about the characteristics of zombies remain consistent in the book. Maberry does so well at maintaining this consistency that intricate scenes are set up on this basic premise. And that is just one example of how the details are thought through so well.

Have you ever watched a movie where the hero is seriously outnumbered and has to fight his way through all these bad guys, but the attackers attack one at a time, while others patiently wait their turn and all the while you are thinking, “Why don’t they all attack at the same time?” Rot & Ruin doesn’t have this problem. You will also not complain about bad people who are dumber than dirt. Maberry doesn’t insult the reader by stacking the deck in the hero’s favor.

Finally, the author does an outstanding job of character development. I was invested in the characters. I felt for and with them. The series follows Benny Imura, but as far as I am concerned, the most intriguing and attractive character by far is Tom Imura. Tom plays the part of the tragic hero- a true gentleman who wields a zombie killing samurai sword, cares for his younger brother, gracefully carries around his inner demons and clings to the hope that one day, the world will become a better place. If only he truly existed… without the zombies of course.

This review seems so incomplete and inadequate. Read the book. I don’t think you will regret it. I just hope that after doing such a great job with the first, Maberry delivers in subsequent books. I highly recommend Rot & Ruin.

Reviewed by Christina

One thought on “REVIEW: Rot & Ruin (Benny Imura #1) by Jonathan Maberry

  1. Great review! So glad you enjoyed it. We now have a ROT & RUIN movie in development; and I just started writing a ROT & RUIN comic for IDW that will debut this fall. The comic will be set in the gap between DUST & DECAY and FLESH & BONE.

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