Series: Benny Imura #1
Published by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers on 14th September 2010
Genres: Horror, Post Apocalyptic, Young Adult
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In the zombie-infested, post-apocalyptic America where Benny Imura lives, every teenager must find a job by the time they turn fifteen, or get their rations cut in half. Benny doesn’t want to apprentice as a zombie hunter with his boring older brother Tom, but he has no choice. He expects a tedious job whacking zoms for cash, but what he gets is a vocation that will teach him what it means to be human.
Jonathan Maberry’s Rot & Ruin gives the zombie genre an interesting little spin. Granted, my experience with literature involving flesh-eaters has been rather lax, but I nonetheless feel confident in stating that the Benny Imura series is unique in at least one very important way. Rather than treating the undead hordes as mere sacks of rotting flesh and brittle bones, there only to pose various obstacles for the human characters whom we are meant to side with, Maberry does something that is oftentimes only touched on in other media on the subject:
He makes them human.
Sure, they’re falling apart at the seams and have an unquenchable desire for your precious internal organs. But, at one point or another, they were just like you and me. Human beings with beating hearts and functioning brains. People who had hopes, desires, dreams and fears. The author’s focus on this knowledge is a standout aspect of the novel.
The fact that Maberry was able to make me emotional whilst reading strikes me as particularly noteworthy. I’ve never had much interest in the zombie genre, and have rarely felt any sort of attachment to the living characters in these sorts of stories. Yet, here, I managed to sympathize not only with those with blood still pumping through their veins, but those too who had long since started crumbling into dust. It’s an enriching experience when an author is able to not only pull you out of your usual complacency, but also pull you beyond the most basic levels of emotional involvement, and Maberry does both effortlessly.
Of course, Rot and Ruin is not without its flaws, but they are relatively minor in comparison to what the book does right. And, now, a series of lists as I try to keep my other points succinct for you lovely readers:
1. To summarize the initial point: Maberry’s treatment of the undead is heartfelt and even tear-jerking at times. It’s a wonderful way to present a creature that is quickly becoming a worn and tired subject for YA fiction. The result is a story that is actually about zombies, rather than one that includes them only in the most minimally required way in order to cash in on a popular trend.
2. Tom and Benny’s relationship is a fantastic one to watch. It evolves steadily throughout the story, and is completely changed by the final pages. The transformation of Benny’s attitude is a great piece of genuine character development, fleshing out both of the siblings and creating a bond that is emotionally satisfying.
3. The central romance is perfunctory, though sweet. I’m a bit worried that a love triangle may spring up in the sequels, but the way that Benny and Nix’s relationship develops here works well. It isn’t forced, rushed, or overemphasized, given time to grow in a way that feels natural.
1. Inconsistency causes, at several points, confusion in the narrative’s details. It’s frustrating when one has to consistently flip through pages in order to resolve some unclear point in the worldbuilding. How was Benny able to dismount from his horse when he was already off? How did the rain just start falling when it had begun to do so on the previous page? It’s the little things that can kill the emotional undercurrents of a scene, pulling you out of the action when things don’t quite mesh.
2. The finale, while satisfying, comes off as cartoonish, if only because it plays out in the most predictable manner possible. Lengthy speeches, moments of self-doubt, falls off of tall objects and timely reappearances of supposedly dead characters are all on display. It’s generally unsurprising and by-the-numbers, the sort of thing you get in every Disney film and action flick.
3. Benny’s obsession with a new character introduced partway through the story is abrupt and a bit mystifying. I understand his empathetic attitude, but I’m not sure why he becomes so enamored with this person after only seeing her likeness on a trading card. It’s a bit of development meant to introduce a potential romantic subplot, I’m certain, but it’s so sudden that it feels tacked on, coming across more as an obvious plot point meant to advance the story rather than as an actual evolution of the protagonist.
Ultimately, this is a story about the humans (those on both sides of the great mortality debate) that live in a dangerous world and how they find peace within it. There’s plenty of violence thrown in, of course, but it never feels excessive or pointless. Instead, it helps further the story and give depth to the characters and their actions. If you’re looking for something that features plenty of gratuitous gore and lengthy action scenes, this may not be for you. Otherwise, if you have even the smallest interest in seeing what the zombie craze is all about, I recommend that you give this one a try.