Welcome to my blog. I often think I was born with a book in my hand. I have always enjoyed reading, but more importantly, talking about books. This blog is partially about reviews, but is really a forum to talk about what I'm reading, and express all of the thoughts and feelings that there simply isn't room for in a professional review. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on your favourite books as you follow my reading journey.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Rot & Ruin + Dust & Decay: Spine-Chilling Zombie Dystopias

Zombies have long-fascinated both readers and movie-goers. Vampires are romantic. Werewolves are sexy. But zombies? In a word- terrifying.  These undead creatures are difficult to kill, have no conscious thought, and are perpetually hungry for blood. And worst of all, if they catch you, you are doomed to an eternal existence of roaming the earth as one of them.

The Benny Imura series begins with Rot & Ruin, and is set in a Zombie-infested, Post-Apocalyptic America. In this new world, every teenager must find a job by the time they reach fifteen or else be forced to survive on half of their rations. Benny Imura, a nearly-fifteen-year-old boy lives with his older half-brother Tom Imura, who is a revered Zombie Hunter in the community, but is far from a hero in Benny's eyes. Though just a toddler during what is now referred to as "First Night", Benny is certain he remembers his brother running away that night, leaving his mother to die in the apocalypse. Forced to apprentice to Tom when he can't find any other suitable job, Benny expects to be bored, but instead, learns the meaning of what it is to be human.

In the second book Dust & Decay, the story picks up six months later, and after months of rigorous training, Tom, and Benny and his friends are preparing to leave the ruin in search of whatever lies beyond. From the beginning, everything that can go wrong does, and they encounter horrors way beyond their imagining. Nobody and nothing can be trusted in the ruin, and somebody may not make it out alive.

As early as last spring, I was hearing a great deal of excited buzz about a new Zombie series from Bram Stoker Award-winning author Jonathan Maberry, and upon hearing the author talk about it during a Children's Author Speed Dating event at last year's BEA, I knew I was going to have to put aside my biases about zombie stories, and read Rot & Ruin.  And I'm so glad I did! In fact, as soon as I got my advance copy of the sequel Dust & Decay, I literally put down the book I had in process to read it right away.

I can't say enough about these books. They are so much more than simple zombie stories, and they give readers a lot to think about, and particularly themes of courage and humanity. What makes somebody brave? Does it take courage to violently slaughter the walking dead, or is it more courageous to give them as humane and respectful a death as possible?

Is it courage to hide in a proverbial bubble, or is courage being brave enough to challenge the status-quo and to fight to make things better? These questions are only the tip of the iceberg for Benny, and he finds no easy answers. As they prepare to leave Mountainside in the second book, questions of courage morph into even more complex questions of heroism, and obligation. Tom has never asked to be viewed as a hero, nor does he want to be. When word gets out that he is planning to leave, people try to pressure him to stay, arguing that he is responsible for keeping them safe. And then there are Benny's friends. There is Lila, the "Lost Girl" who is possibly more reckless than brave, his girlfriend Nix, who has survived unspeakable horrors and is desperate for escape, and best friend  Chong, who exhibits courage by admitting that he is afraid.

All of these characters are multi-layered and incredibly human. They have faults, they make mistakes, and they are far from stereotypical. They are everyday people doing what they have to in order to survive, and they are likeable. The author even made me see zombies in a new light, and forced me to recognize that they too had once been alive and human.

Far from simple "zombie" fiction, these books are terrifying, suspenseful, thought-provoking and emotionally challenging. They are not only among some of the best "dystopians" I've read this year, they are among the best books period, and they are absolutely worth the read.