Rot and Ruin

Benny Imura has problems. He has to find a job, he’s confused about his feelings for a girl, and he hates his older brother, Tom – who saved Benny’s life when he was a baby, but left their parents to die. Oh, and their world is overrun by zombies.

Beyond the fences that surround their town, the living dead wander, waiting for hapless prey to stumble into their clutches. Only the heavily armed bounty hunters regularly venture outside. Tom is one of these hunters. He specializes in finding people’s undead relatives, and giving them ‘closure’.

This is an excellent story, with strong characters and a thriller plot. Maberry avoids the drudgery of an ‘escape-or-destroy’ zombie plotline by taking a new angle, as demonstrated by Tom, who tries to make Benny understand that the zombies represent the corpses of people who might still be mourned by the living. He has respect for the dead.

The drama and action steadily gather pace as the story progresses, leading to some graphically violent scenes as Benny learns some hard truths about the bounty hunters he idolizes. In his world, it’s humans, and not the zombies, who commit the most evil acts.

I’d have a few reservations: even for a surly teenager, Benny takes a long, long time to resolve his feelings for both his brother, and for his friend Nix, despite events leading him that way. There are also two substantial plot strands involving a feral Lost Girl and a place called Gameland that seem distant from, and slightly forced into the protagonists’ immediate story, though these may be part of establishing a series (a sequel is already on its way). But Maberry has mastered his craft, and delivers a rich, gritty, haunting and engrossing story. I look forward to the next one.