Words: Lindsay Bradley
Jonathan Maberry overhauls the zombie genre in Rot and Ruin as humans have long admitted defeat against the zombies. This twist is not new but what makes it worthy of attention is that it begins fourteen years after the First Night and the human race are no longer in charge.
The novel follows Benny Imura, 15, as he desperately attempts to find a job in the fenced community where he lives with his half-brother Tom. The only problem is that they don’t get along. What is peculiar is that it takes fourteen years for Tom to open up to Benny about what happened to their parents. Benny blames Tom for what happened and he simply allows him to believe that. The only way Tom is willing to communicate is if Benny chooses to become a bounty hunter like himself. Surely they would have talked or had some form of confrontation about something as important as their parent’s deaths.
Things get more exciting when Benny finally agrees to join his brother as an apprentice and they head into the rot and ruin. Their relationship too improves and becomes more complex and appealing as Tom begins to open up about his work. Finally Benny gets to see and experience what these zombies he has only heard about from behind the fence. There is plenty of gore and zombie-filled action but Maberry tries too hard to humanise them, as many humans would prefer to live out in the rot and ruin with them.
The town itself is well protected and everyone contributes to the community. It is oddly satisfying to read that although the world as we know it has ended, the human race has found a way to survive despite no longer being the leading race. Many of the residents are afraid and resent these ‘other’ creatures despite them once being human and a part of someone’s family. This is where Tom comes in. His job as a bounty hunter requires Tom to kill zombies but as he supposedly can do no wrong, he chooses to kill them with ‘dignity.’ The same courtesy is not extended to his colleagues. This raises the question: are zombies the real villains?
A major problem with the narrative is that Benny is depicted as incredibly immature. For a 15 year old, he most certainly acts much younger, throwing tantrums when things don’t go his way. The other characters are ignorant to his attitude and, for some baffling reason, look to him as a leader.
Overall, the action and plot are gripping but the issue is the relationships between the characters. Benny’s relationship with Nix feels forced and seems like it is used as a reason for Benny to go out into the rot and ruin.
That being said, the novel is likely to delight fans of zombie fiction as it gives a new twist to the somewhat overpopulated genre.
Oxford Road rating: ★★★