Friday, 6 April 2012

Book Review : 'Rot and Ruin' & 'Dust and Decay' by Jonathan Maberry

What can one say about Jonathan Maberry?

My first fateful encounter with the writing of this guy came when hunting for some 'fresh blood'. I'd exhausted all the works of my favorite authors, having read and re-read my huge collection of degenerate horror fiction more than once. I found myself facing what you could safely call a dry-out. Now, I could easily go back and visit the works of Laymon, Keene, Lee et-all, for the rest of my life and still shuffle of to the big fire a very happy, content soul; but I like to experiment from time to time. Take a dive into unknown waters, if you will. It was on one such excursion into the risky realm of blind book-buying that I stumbled upon his novel, GHOST ROAD BLUES.

The blurb caught me. The artwork caught me, the fucking title caught me, but I had no idea what I was in store for. I soon learned that it was book one it what is now known as Maberry's 'Pine Deep Trilogy'. A series of books that, for me at least, redefined horror literature. The influences were clear, but the execution was mind-blowing. It still stands as the greatest horror epic I've ever read.

Although with ROT AND RUIN, and its sequel, DUST AND DECAY, it's having a helluva fight to hold that accolade. These books, (two parts of a four part tale), take the zombie mythos we all know and love, reinvigorate and reinvent it for a whole new generation.

We've all read Robert Kirkman's THE WALKING DEAD series ( or should have), and few would argue that it represents the very best of what the zombie genre has to offer. Documenting the lives of a group of survivors directly after the zombie apocalypse, and well into their futures, (if they have any), was a no-brainer, and has led to some wonderful characterization, plot-lines and themes. Its an undead fanatics wet dream.

Now, imagine an epic tale set within the realm of a similar apocalypse, yet instead of picking up our characters directly after the worlds gone to shit, (or rot and ruin), we pick up fourteen years later, as whats left of the human race has managed to rebuild the world in some small, desperate image of what it used to be.

Small communities have rebuilt. Etching out a living in the midst of a hellish wasteland that once was America. (and is now referred to by one and all, as the 'Great Rot and Ruin'. Living within fortified 'towns', and trading with similar communities spread throughout the desolation, bands of survivors have created for themselves a vague shadow of the world that once was. Many still remember the events of that long ago night when the dead began to walk, yet just as many were only just children at the time, and have no real grasp of the world beyond the borders of their towns.

It's with one of these children of the new world that Maberry's epic tome concerns itself. A fifteen year old name Benny Imura, who, as we meet him, is finishing his education and has reached 'job age'. The choices for Benny's future employment are none to enticing, and its to his brother, Tom, that he turns to learn the family trade.

Tom, we learn, is a bounty hunter. One of a select group of respected/feared warriors who make their living outside the safety of their towns fences.

Seems like a cool job. But Benny has never left his home, and is about to learn the devastating reality of life in the Great Rot and Ruin, and learn that not all monsters are dead already.

What Maberry has achieved with these two novels is astounding. He's envisioned a fully realized alternate reality that brims with detail, and, (much like 'The Pine Deep Trilogy', has populated it with some of the most complex, interesting and colourful characters to be found anywhere in horror fiction. He's taken the epic sweep of J.R.R. Tolkien's, THE LORD OF THE RINGS, and transferred it to a far darker, more desperate clime. There's a real sense of high adventure in these books, yet there's also an ever-present sense of danger. The shadow of death, and the horrors of an unending post-apocalyptic nightmare, are never far away from the characters we so grow to love.

This is essentially a coming of age tale. Told with the broad sweep of a timeless epic, and punctuated by moments of genuine terror, and real emotional weight.

We follow Benny as he grows from an angry, arrogant teenager into a battle worn soul who's spiritual and emotional scars will never truly heal, and we're with him every pained, desperate step of the way, from  youthful innocence into dreadful awareness of the world he and his friends truly inhabit.

The ROT AND RUIN series is regarded as young fiction, and I can see the reasoning behind that. At the center of this spellbinding tale is our young protagonist and his teenage friends. Yet this is no HARRY POTTER or, god forbid, TWILIGHT. This is a tale that treats its young characters, (and any young readers lucky enough to cross its path), with respect, and injects them with genuine humanity. There are as many 'adult' characters as there are teens, and the horror on display is far from lightweight. This is every inch a horror story. Unflinching in its depiction of atrocity, violence and heartbreak. It has a love story, though here the love story is believable, touching and has real significance to the growth of its characters. Its a tragic glimpse into a world too terrible to conceive, that gradually casts shadow after shadow, forcing its heroes into darkness and despair. No, this is no throwaway tale. This is as adult in theme and content as they come. Its never overly gratuitous, but it asks you to travel to some very dark, hopeless places, and refuses to hold your hand along the way.

The first book introduces us to this vivid world, and the second sends us on a one way journey headlong into hell. The ideas of the first book are expanded, the world grows in size and complexity, and the whole thing begins to appear as a bone-fide modern classic, not only with its genre, but within the literary world altogether. Praise be then, that there are still two books to go in this mind-blowing series.

There are far too many moments of brilliance among the two books to mention, so to give you a taster, you can expect : Gladiatorial Arena's pitching the living against the dead, zombie playing cards, epic sword -battles, zombie forests, a legendary wild girl, beautiful and atrocious views and locales, surfer-dudes turned noble warriors, fantastic human villains, beautifully drawn characters who you grow to love as your own, and, towering over all, you have perhaps the most perfect representation of a 'hero' that I've yet come across in modern fiction; Tom Imura. Sage, teacher, leader, moral beacon, and fucking samurai warrior. This is a guy you can get behind. It just doesn't get any better, frankly.

ROT AND RUIN and DUST AND DECAY will take you on a hell-bound thrill ride that never lets up, is filled to the brim with vision, depth and detail, and is guaranteed to leave you with tears running down your face, and a burning desire in your heart to read the next two chapters. Its a tale of hope in a hopeless land, and the lengths that some will go to in order to keep that hope alive. Its beautiful, mature, complex, frightening and a bloody wonderful journey that you'll want to return to again and again.

Where Benny and his friends will go from here, in their search for meaning in this deadened, spiritually and morally devolving world, is a maddeningly tantalizing thought.

And if by the time it's all over with your not a blubbering, tear-soaked mess...your dead already.

10 'BEN' Collectors Cards out of 10


  1. This has to be one of the most intelligent and insightful reviews I've ever read. I'm delighted that you enjoyed the first two books of the Rot & Ruin quadrology. I hope the rest of the series satisfies your expectations!

  2. Thanks, Jonathan! Can;t wait for the coming releases. Time goes so slow...:)

  3. After a comment like that from the author, how can I not read the book?