It’s been 14 years since First Night, when the dead came back to life. Six billion people have died (and reanimated) since then, and America has collapsed into isolated communities living within the great “Rot and Ruin.” Benny is 15, which means it’s time to get a job or face cut rations, but his general laziness leaves him with only one employment option: join his stuffy, sword-swinging, Japanese half-brother, Tom, as an apprentice bounty hunter. This means heading beyond the gates to slice and dice “zoms,” but Benny quickly begins to see the undead in a new light—as well as realizing that Tom is much more than he ever let on. The plot is driven by an evil bounty-hunter rival and the cruel games he plays, but Maberry has more than gore on his mind. The chief emotion here is sadness, and the book plays out like an extended elegy for a lost world. Tom’s a bit too perfect and his pontification too extended, but this is nevertheless an impressive mix of meaning and mayhem.
Rot & RuinHot
Zombie fans will enjoy the fresh take on the future filled with zombies and non-zombie fans like myself will be surprised to find a truly wonderful storyline.
Though Rot & Ruin had a bevy of characters, none of them truly stuck out for me. What I did enjoy however, was watching Benny and Tom’s relationship evolve. Originally strained because of Benny’s belief that Tom was a coward, Benny had absolutely no respect for Tom or his job as a bounty hunter. All that began to change as the veil of innocence was lifted from Benny’s eyes after his first trip into the rot and ruin, and he experienced a zombie kill for the first time. Listening to Tom explain how he was a different bounty hunter than most, and his reasons for it, we got to see Benny begrudgingly accept that his brother might not be as awful as he had imagined. It was also interesting to see Tom’s patience get stretched to its breaking point, because of Benny’s foolish beliefs about “cool” bounty hunters like Charlie and The Hammer. It was a really interesting dynamic, that two people could have lived under the same roof for fifteen years, and know so little about one another.
His experiences in the rot and ruin changed Benny, gave him perspective and showed him how sheltered his life had been despite his surroundings. His time with Tom also made him begin to doubt everything he had been taught about zombies, and this is where Rot & Ruin’s philosophical and ethical questions about the treatment of zombies came in to play. We don’t currently disrespect the diseased or the dead, so why should that change if the particular disease they contract happens to make them the walking dead? What right do we have to take their life, when their friends/family could be searching for them, for closure? How can we so easily take the life of someone who used to be human? When a creature is acting on instinct, without malice, do we seek out each one in order to destroy them all? Then why are zombies any different? It’s these kinds of questions that Tom puts into Benny’s head, widening his worldview and changing how he views the undead.
But while waxing poetic about the undead was fascinating, Rot & Ruin did have quite a bit of action up its sleeves as well! I really enjoyed watching Tom and Benny hunt down Charlie’s gang and I loved the element of suspense added with The Lost Girl. I found her history really intriguing, and found myself hoping they found her – if only to see how life in the rot and ruin would fashion a young girl. Watching Tom perform closures for his clients was heartbreaking, and it made me better understand how so many other bounty hunters would avoid his line of work; it takes a certain kind of character to handle such an intense job. I could have done without the wishy-washy romance, which seemed forced and lacked passion, but I really enjoyed the slight twists at the end (even though I saw them both coming).
With well-placed comedic moments intersecting some of the more intense moments, compelling discussions surrounding the treatment of the undead and a fast-paced plot, I’m eager for more; bring on book two, Dust and Decy!
Jonathan Maberry’s Rot & Ruin comes advertized as a zombie novel. And I suppose that’s what it is, on the surface. Certainly, the latter half of the book has a lot of zombie chasing, zombie fights, blood’n’guts, etc. Yet the action scenes weren’t what I liked most about Rot & Ruin, and I’d be willing to guess that it wasn’t the big message Maberry wanted his readers to take away.
From where I sit, “zombies are people too” is the biggest theme; maybe “respect the dead—even the living dead.” Either way, this book was intensely thought-provoking, very emotional, and just all around intelligently presented. Rot & Ruin is a very elegant, intellectual zombie novel.
The relationship between Benny and Tom was absolutely fantastic. There aren’t a lot of sibling dynamics running around in the YA age-range, especially ones so well written as Benny and Tom.
Maberry’s characters, as a rule, were all fantastic. (Except for Lilah, who was a little cheesy.) Tom was, without a doubt, my favorite. Strong, kind, intelligent, deeply-ingrained sense of morality and honor, loves his little brother even though Benny “hates” him, tortured, etc., etc. I had ALL THE FEELS for Tom, guys. Favorite character archetype. Period. Dot. We’re getting married.
Forget Benny. Jonathan Maberry should write a book about Tom!
The first half of Rot & Ruin focused mostly on setting up the stage. How the Rot and Ruin looked/smelled/felt, how the bounty hunters operated, Benny’s introduction to being an apprentice, his reaction to actually seeing a zombie killed. Those sections were very emotional and poignant.
Yet towards the second half of the book, when things got less introspective and more zombie-chase, I started to lose interest. I honestly have always skimmed the fight scenes in a book, just because they don’t interest me or hold my attention. I’m much more character-development oriented.
However, this book is still really awesome. Maberry’s writing is strong and very intelligent, his characters are unique and likable, and the overall plot was pretty darn good. I’m very, very impressed with Rot & Ruin and Jonathan Maberry’s talent.
Naturally, he’s irritated and a little unhappy that he’s old enough that he needs to get a job. But the whole process of him going from job to job, trying and failing isn’t interesting. It was just enough to keep me trucking alone. But once you hit the point where it gets good—it’s a good story.
For me—without spoiling anything—that point was Chapter Six, 44 pages in. Yes, 44 pages isn’t much to trudge through to get to the interesting part, but after this chapter there’s another little gap. You can see what the chapter’s for, and the purpose of it—but it’s not the most interesting thing in the world.
Once you get to the good part, the rest of the story is very well written. Benny and his brother Tom are very good characters, developed well with realistic logic and feelings. The plot is pretty well written too, excluding those little blips at the beginning. The author did a very good job at painting this post-apocalyptic world in your head through what Benny sees, and what stories he’s told about ‘First Night’—what they call the night everything happened.
If you like Zombies, you’ll like the book. But if you’re not even a little bit patient with your stories, I don’t think I would bother with it. If you do decided to give it a chance; it’s a well develop, good story. It’s not the most thought provoking story, more of an easy read—but it’s good.
You know who I loved though? Nix and, to a lesser degree, Lilah. Although Rot & Ruin is written by a man and the main character is male and the main audience is likely teenage boys, most of the women in this novel still kick serious ass. Props to Jonathan Maberry for not writing about teenage girls who only talk about boys and trip all over themselves and constantly need to be saved. Honestly, I think Nix saves Benny's hide more often than he saves hers.
The dystopian aspects were pretty cool, although somewhat similar to the way Carrie Ryan's world reacted to the zombie menace, minus the crazy gates all over the place. Maberry didn't do anything too original with his worldbuilding, but its solid and the book is well-written. For zombie dystopias, I rank this way above Carrie Ryan's books, but still far below Mira Grant's Newsflesh series.
While I never got super engrossed into Rot & Ruin, perhaps because I just wasn't quite in the right mood, it was definitely a solid read and I am looking forward to the second book, Dust & Decay.
Watching Benny figure out what life is all about
The deep lessons learned that are interwoven into the story
The mysteriousness of Tom and seeing him in a new light through Benny's eyes
The lyrical and descriptive story telling
Seeing Benny mature and develop more meaningful relationships
The nonstop action
Being able to see the past (our present time) through the eyes of the characters
The zombie creepiness
Some of My Favorite Quotes:
"There are moments that define a person's whole life. Moments in which everything they are and everything they may possibly become balance on a single decision. Life and death, hope and despair, victory and failure teeter precariously on the decision made at that moment. These are moments ungoverned by happenstance, untroubled by luck. These are the moments in which a person earns the right to live, or not."
"Often it was the most unlikely people who found within themselves a spark of something greater. It was probably always there, but most people are never tested, and they go through their whole lives without ever knowing that when things are at their worst, they are at their best."
"There was a sliver of moon and a splash of stars, and the light outlined her face and glistened on the tears that ran like mercury down her cheeks."
YA Science Fiction Fans/Zombie Fans
So I thought this would be a gory, but fun, zombie story. It is a fun gory zombie book, but at the same time it is so much more than that! I had no idea that I would get so emotionally involved in this story! This book makes you think about how sometimes humans act more like monsters than monsters themselves. The author addresses topics like prejudice, bravery, compassion, pride, selflessness, guilt, and so much more, all while keeping you at the edge of your seat (and looking under your bed before you go to sleep). There was lots of action with just a touch of romance, which is how I like my science fiction! This is a first in a series, and I am about to devour the next book Dust and Decay!