I loved Patient Zero, and I loved the short story, focusing on the same characters as Rot and Ruin, in Zombie. So I was super excited to start reading this, and I was not disappointed. The book starts years after ‘First Night’, when the dead stopped just being dead. Now, fourteen years later, Benny Imura has to find a job or have his rations cut in half. After trying a variety of work, Benny opts to apprentice with his brother Tom, a man he has hated since their parents died, when he thought Tom simply ran away.
But when Tom takes Benny out into the Rot and Ruin, the land beyond their small town, Benny begins to understand exactly what it is his brother does. And his world changes as he realises bounty hunters, the men who hunt down zombies, aren’t as cool as he originally thought.
Benny at first comes across a little bit of a brat. Him and his best friend turn down job after job, for the main reason that they’re just too hard. He refuses to see his brother as a person, and admires men like Charlie Pink-Eye and The Motor City Hammer, men who, it’s clear, are rough and tough, so completely opposite to Benny’s brother Tom. He’s not unlikable, but he is a character you urge to grow. And that works nicely for the plot of the book, where Benny’s world changes and he starts to realise that the way he sees things might just be wrong.
Nothing is overly explicit in the book. Maberry lets us, as readers, make up our own minds about these characters and this world, dropping hints here and there towards what they’re really like. As well as that, even though it’s mostly from Benny’s POV, Maberry draws us in and allows us to see much more than Benny can. The characters of his friends, his brother and the others in the town are interesting in their own right, and none of them feel like they’re shoved in there just as a plot device, or just for the sake of the book. They are feel like real people, even when we only glimpse them for a few moments.
There aren’t twists, as such. More like revelations, mainly ones that Benny has but the reader is able to pick up on beforehand. But it’s not a book to read for major plot twists and startling moments. Instead, many of the best parts are the quiet, understated ones, where we glimpse into the characters and see their emotions, either hidden or bubbling quietly to the surface. There are some truly touching moments, not just on the part of the human characters, but moments when we see that the zombies aren’t just undead people who need to be re-killed, but instead are former humans who had lives and families.
When the action does happen, it’s gripping and engrossing. There’s real fear for the characters, real worry for them as they find themselves in severe danger. And most of that is down to the way Maberry has introduced them to us, the way he has them laid out and the way we feel for them before they face too much.
Rot And Ruin is a different type of zombie book, one where the zombies are more background than the main monsters, and one in which the quietest moments are the strongest. A great read.