It’s a post-apocalyptic world. The dead have risen, and in our war against the zombies, the living –we– have lost. Humanity still survives in fenced-in, isolated small communities, and people get on with life the best that they can. Still, whatever caused the original outbreak continues to make anyone who dies or gets bitten by a zombie, or “zom,” also become a zombie. Bounty hunters roam the land, trying to survive and collect money by killing zoms and presenting their heads as proof. This is the type of world fifteen-year-old Benny Imura and his older half-brother, Tom (who is a bounty hunter) live in. Rot & Ruin–the latest novel by Jonathan Maberry, who is well-known for having written the horror thriller Patient Zero and the excellent suspenseful novel The Dragon Factory–is a book that will live in your memories for long after you finish it.
Rot & Ruin is a touching book that teaches us that no matter how dangerous zombies can be, they once were our family members, or those of others. They were people who lived, had wives, husbands, brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters who loved them. If you are younger than fifteen, you attend school for a full day and get full rations. Once you turn fifteen, though, you must get a job and you only get to attend school for half a day, if you want to keep getting full rations. If you don’t get a job, you only receive half rations. The first few chapters of Rot & Ruin are about the then fourteen-year-old Benny’s job search and how he tries out various jobs that suck or that he’s just not good at. He would rather do almost any other job than to work as his brother’s apprentice, and learn from him how to be bounty hunter.
Benny idolizes two of the town’s bounty hunters, Charlie “Pinkeye” Matthias and Marion “Motor City” Hammer, and loves to hear their tales of facing down zoms and kicking their butts. Some people in the town, like the mayor, tell him his brother has killed even more zoms than Charlie and the Hammer, but Benny has never seen his brother kill any zombies nor heard him brag about what he does, so he thinks Tom is a coward, and he’s disgusted with him. But, after having searched for several days for a job with his friend, Chong, who finds a job for himself, Benny is no closer to finding one he likes, so he reluctantly asks Tom to be his apprentice.
This is where Rot & Ruin really started to hold my attention (though it’s great from page one), because Benny begins to find out what being a bounty hunter is all about. He learns that Charlie and the Hammer, rather than being people worthy of being idolized, are sadistic, cruel bullies. Benny also learns that his half brother is extremely good at wielding a sword called a katana, and that he’s far from being a coward. He’s killed hundreds of zoms, but only when it was necessary to, or when he was hired to put one out of his/her misery by a family member. The family members write a parting letter to the zom, and Tom tries to kill the zombie quickly and with as much respect as possible by using a knife to sever its brain stem.
Benny becomes even more disillusioned with Charlie and the Hammer when they try to take a trading card away from him that has on it the picture of a teen girl who lives out in the wilds (the Rot & Ruin that the majority of America has become). She is known as the Lost Girl, and Benny wants to go with Tom and find her. Charlie and the Hammer also want to find her, for very different reasons–she saw something that she wasn’t supposed to see, and they don’t want her telling on them for the bad things they’ve done. When Charlie kidnaps Nix, one of Benny’s friends, to try to force Benny and Tom to locate the Lost Girl and turn her over to him, the two brothers have had enough.
Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry is a page-turning roller coaster ride that will both thrill you and touch your heart. It’s an action-packed novel, one that anyone who loves to read thrillers and zombie stories should love. Maberry is a talented author, and so far, I’ve enjoyed reading every book he’s written. I highly recommend that you check out Rot & Ruin today!