I know, zombies, right? So passe, so early century, so urban fiction–so yawn for so many people. The genre is erroneously underrated; the best zombie and apocalypse fiction is about wrestling with humanity, ethics and survival, with some hair-raising action to leaven the philosophy. At worst, they’re Cracker Jacks, caramel popcorn fun with a prize at the end. I love me some apocalypse fiction, and when Trudi recommended this series, I knew I had to give it a go.
It opens in a small town of 28 thousand, with fifteen year-old Benny and his best friend Lou Chong forced to look for jobs, the bane of countless teenagers during countless summers. Only, if they don’t find a job, food rations will be decreased by half, and we all know how teens like to eat. Benny lives with his half-brother Tom in a gated community, only this particularly community is gated to keep the zombies out. Benny has been carrying a grudge against Tom since the day of the Fall, fourteen years ago. He has a memory of Tom carrying him, racing away from the arms of his mom and leaving her to their father, who was already a zombie. Since then, Tom has spent years raising and protecting him, now working as a zombie-quieter. Benny truly doesn’t understand his brother’s expertise and philosophy, instead admiring the town bounty-hunter thugs who brag about number of kills and scavenged riches. To absolutely no one’s surprise, Benny fails as all the jobs he tries and resigns himself to apprenticing with Tom. Tom takes him outside the fence, and Benny finds many of his beliefs and emotions challenged. They return to town, more stuff happens, and Benny has to do some fast growing up as they race against time to save —
The expositional process of going through different jobs is a novel and clever one, introducing the reader to various roles and norms within the community. The locksmiths repair locks so people can be locked in at night (in case they die of natural causes), and erosion artists act like police sketch artists for those missing family and friends. There isn’t too much that is unique in the town setting or in society’s reaction to the Fall, except for a religious faction that blames the zombies on technology. Religion plays another role outside the fence when Benny meets the zombie sympathizers. Mentality and technology have an 1800s Western feel, with bounty hunters and traders being the few willing to set foot outside of town.
I lacked patience for early Benny; he’s such a teenager, but of course, that’s so he can grow exponentially by the book’s finish. Characterization was done well; developed so that we had a feel for their complexities and motivations. Also worth noting that there is an acknowledgement of a wide variety of ethnicities for such a small community, including Tom. It’s rare that the apocalypse deals well with racial issues, so Rot is a standout there. Teenage dialogue, slacking and angst was believable. Zombies were standard for the genre. Writing was competent, with enough variety in structure and word choice to remain interesting, even if it didn’t lead me to marvel over its beauty. There’s a twisty ending, one part that we could see coming, another twist we couldn’t, and it lends an emotional gravity to the book.
Three and a half stars on the enjoyment scale, rounding up to four because 1) I feel like it, and 2) I recognize my enjoyment in the first part was slightly compromised by the
idiot naive teen angle that left me wanting to slap Benny. But that’s me and teenagers, and probably a mark of how well Maberry creates characters.
Four decaying stars.