Review - Rot and Ruin by Jonathan Maberry

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): World on a String by The Immediate.

My reviews are a bit different than most. As an undercover superhero (ordinary girl extraordinaire), my purpose is to try and uncover hidden gems lost from the familiar radar. Because of this, I have set up some guidelines for myself (just like the pirate code). :)

I will focus on YA and Children's literature (with very rare exceptions).
I will not review any book that is one of the top 25,000 bestselling books (based on Amazon ranks).
I will try and aim for books 100,000 or larger.
I will review recent books or books of great merit (preferably both).

Rot and Ruin by Jonathan Maberry
Published: September 14, 2010
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Pages: 464
Current Amazon Rank: #42,837
Author's Website:
Want it? Find it here.

The First Line:

Benny Imura couldn't hold a job, so he took to killing.

My Take:

I don't like zombies. Sorry guys, I find them creepy and not cool. I like zombie books even less. They seem like generic monsters (or freakishly fast ones, or with some other twist-like alteration) and full of blood and gore, often (to me) unnecessarily. Ick. But with that caveat, let me say I *loved* Rot and Ruin. No, let me say I adored it. Why? Let me tell you.

This is not your typical zombie book. The zombies are typical (which, ironically, adds to the mythology and makes this story even cooler. Go figure). Sure there is plenty of action, and a decent amount of biting if you know what I mean, but this book has serious heart. I'm not kidding on that. I read in an interview somewhere with Jonathan Maberry that he said (something to the extent of) that good horror isn't about the monsters. It is about people put under extraordinary circumstances and seeing what they become/are made of. I really like that. And under that definition, this is good horror.

Benny hates his brother. In fact, he loathes him. He may have been barely able to remember First Night when the zombies took over, but he has a clear memory of Tom taking him, looking at their mother and running away from it all, and leaving her to the zombies. Everyone thinks Tom is wonderful, but Benny knows the truth.

But he has no choice. Now that he is of age, he has to work or he doesn't get rations. But no place will take him, so he is forced to work for Tom, a zom bounty hunter, or "closure specialist" as he likes to be called. But not is all it seems out in the Rot and Ruin as Benny soon discovers. The real monsters are not always who they appear to be, and he may learn more about his brother than he ever dreamed.

Part dystopian, part horror, part action-adventure and more than part heart-warming tale about two brothers relying on each other in a world gone mad, this is one excellent story. I cannot tell you how happy I am it was nominated for a Cybils. There is so much to like about this book. It is tight and fast paced (I finished it in a single sitting, which is no small feat for me, nor the fact is was almost 500 pages. Don't let that deter you though, or the cover for that matter. It goes by fast), and it has complex characters and a story that really makes you think. I honestly never thought of zombies this way before, and it's awesome.

And can I say how much I LOVED that Tom and Benny were Japanese? I mean, Tom carries a freaking katana! And he uses with deadly accuracy too. (Oh my gosh, Tom is so cool). And you know what? It makes total sense. Zombies are attracted to sound, so why on earth would you be blasting away with a shotgun? A katana is silent, fast and deadly, and the scenes where Tom uses it are fantastically written. (You can tell I will be geeking out about this for a while). And more than that, he adds real Japanese culture to this, having Tom teach Benny and his friends Bushido (the way of the samurai warrior). No Asian-geek, friend-made-for-the-sideline stereotypes here and I cannot tell you how much I love that or how much it adds to the story. He adds other bits too, like wearing coats made of carpet material when they go out into the Ruin because the zombies can't bite through it. Other details like this make the world completely immersive.

There is also a western meets seven samurai flair that I absolutely loved (the tale of the Seven Samurai is a famous Japanese story that is retold extensively in the east and west). There is one scene in particular I swear I could hear the theme song from The Good, the Bad, and The Ugly playing when Tom comes up behind the real baddie to protect his little brother. Squee! Love. :)

The writing is tight, but lacking in a few areas, but not many. The fixation on the "Lost Girl" didn't seem quite as needed as it was, compared to Tom and Benny's relationship, but it was not overly distracting (and probably needed to propel this into a series - which it is!) :D There is some language (just as a warning) and obviously some violence, so keep that in mind, but this is much more a thought-provoking and story of the heart than a gore-fest. Tom teaches Benny that not everything is what it seems out there and he opens his eyes to a much bigger view about the world, his brother, and himself.

Good story. I am eagerly awaiting the sequel (it closes up quite nicely, so no cliffhanger ending for those of you who might have been afraid of that). You might say I have become a zombie book convert. Well, to this particular world of Jonathan Maberry's, I have. :)

The Final Word: More than anything, this is a beautiful and heartwarming story about the relationship between two brothers and seeing monsters are rarely what they seem.

(I am so excited for an interview with Jonathan Maberry tomorrow, let me tell you. He is one fascinating dude).


Jana said...

This was my top 2010 read. I LOVED it and am so glad that I finally have a literary crush that is closer to my age (TOM!!).

Unknown said...

I forgot to tell you!!! I gave this book to Corwin based on your suggestion, and he's really liked it so far! Which is HUGE, as he's very picky about zombie books. Also: he has yet to let me read it.

Lauren said...

Nice! This sounds like a fusion of a lot of my favourite things, *and* I have a copy somewhere so I can read it without breaking my self-imposed temporary book buying ban. The world-building sounds spectacular.

Heather Zundel said...

Jana - This was definitely a top read of 2010. And I *love* Tom. I'm with you on having a literary crush who is older.

Beth - Those are two very good signs! (Just wrestle it from his grasp) It's big enough, you can hit him on the head with it. ;)

Lauren - Oh, do read it! I would love to hear what you think. And the worldbuilding is fantastic. I can't wait for the next book.

MissA said...

Based on the cover I wouldn't have thought poc, but it's still a creepy/cool cover :) *looks closer* Well maybeeeee

Anyway, I don't much about katanas (only from when they are mentioned in books) but I agree that using a silent but deadly weapon would be most effective for zombies!

Thank you for this review, it reminded me to update my paranormal list, which I just did =)

Wonderful, wonderful review

Heather Zundel said...

MissAttitude - Hahaha! Those were my initial reactions exactly! And thank you for the compliment. I know you aren't much for fantasy/anything not contemporary/historical, but you might want to give this one a try. :)