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Rot & Ruin – a review

January 28, 2012

(This review contains no spoilers)

Closing in on thirty, I’m going ever further from the Young Adult demographic. That didn’t keep me from picking up Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry. A zombie novel’s a zombie novel, and I quite like Mr. Maberry’s work.

Rot & Ruin starts the story of Benny Imura, a boy of fifteen, living in a post-apocalyptic world. Fourteen years ago zombies happened, and since then the world has degenerated into a Wild West of sorts. Kind of Mad Max meets Fallout meets The Walking Dead. Technology is severely lacking, and Benny lives with his brother Tom in a small settlement. It isn’t long before things get funky, and what starts out as a teenager’s quest to find a job quickly turns into a fast-paced adventure.

I don’t read much Young Adult stuff, but I guess I should if it’s the same quality as R&R. Having read Maberry’s Patient Zero and Dead of Night (review forthcoming soonish), I didn’t quite know what to expect. His main characters tend to be hard boiled kick-ass types, and I wondered how he would portray a 15-year old. I was happy with how the character of Benny was handled. Yes, he tends to be annoying, petulant, irrational and just plain dumb, but then again who wasn’t at fifteen? In my opinion he’s Maberry’s most human character to date. The supporting cast is none too shabby either, and I ended up caring about their well-being. The good guys are good, the bad guys are bad. Neither are from cardboard, however, and there are justifications to their actions.

Where Rot & Ruin excels, however, is in its treatment of the zombie apocalypse. Surprisingly it’s a much more mature book than either of Maberry’s previous works of zombie fiction. Whereas in those books the zombies were basically just a very clear and present, acute threat, in Rot & Ruin the apocalypse and zombies are viewed in a wider scope. Key questions of the genre are asked: are zombies monsters or victims? Are they morally responsible for their actions? Why is it difficult to kill zombies? I think that asking questions and seeking answers are a staple of YA books, and such an approach is very suitable in the zombie genre as well. Just like Romero’s original Dawn of the Dead, the zombies in R&R are shown as not only monsters, but also creatures heartbreakingly empty and lost. As is often the case in zombie stories, the worst monsters are usually the living and breathing ones. Rot & Ruin manages to be a genuinely touching book, an all too rare occurrence in a world where the only qualification required to be a published zombie novelist seems to be the ability to write “braaaaaaains“. The fact that Maberry manages to include a lot of suspense and gory action into the mix is proof of his skills as a writer. Another testament is that the book carries its length of 460+ pages easily.

Some minor issues irked me, but these are things often encountered in books about unexpected heroes (Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter books spring to mind). In R&R some characters suddenly act just a bit more callously or bravely than you would expect them to. As mentioned, this is in my view a part of the genre but nonetheless somewhat disrupts the coherency of the characters momentarily. There is a bit of a deus ex machina ending, but I’m more tolerant of it here as well. I would also have liked a bit more of a surprise in the climax of the book. It was all in all a good scene, but not as effective as it could have been.

Overall verdict: It’s hard for me to describe what exactly it is about Rot & Ruin that makes it so appealing. Maybe it’s the grassroots approach, maybe it’s the YA vibe that comes from easy readability and themes such as growing up. Maybe it’s the thoughtful take on zombies. Whatever it is, it works very nicely. Paradoxically, writing to young adults, Jonathan Maberry has written his most mature piece of zombie fiction. There is a sequel to the book, called Dust & Decay and it’s already on my shopping list.

As usual, I picked up my copy from the Book Depository.

On a related note, Jonathan Maberry will be interviewed on Dawn of the Lead at the start of February. Stay tuned!

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3 comments

  1. Zombie CSU could have done with being edited down a bit I thought, but I really enjoyed it despite that. In many respects it has become the book that defines how zombies “work” for me. It is one of the few books on the topic that I regularly think about nearly two years after reading it.

    I read Patient Zero and found it a bit too hard-boiled for my tastes, but still enjoyed it enough to base some of my never ending zombie miniatures project on it (which Mr Maberry commented on actually, which was fun).

    I have added Rot and Ruin to my growing horde of yet to be read zombie books. I will try to get it read before the interview: that should be interesting.


    • As always, thanks for the comment! It’s great to hear my reviews are making an impact 🙂


  2. […] as the first interviewee is none other than Jonathan Maberry, author of Zombie CSU, Patient Zero, Rot & Ruin and Dead of Night. Click the first three titles for their respective reviews, the one on Dead of […]



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