Written by: Matthew J. Barbour
Young adult fiction is all the rage among the fantasy and science fiction readers. However, you do not get much young adult fiction within the horror genre. Some of that is of course the fact that horror narratives tend to be more adult focused. While you get coming of age tales, such as It by Stephen King and Ghoul by Brian Keene, the explicit subject matter makes many of these stories inappropriate for younger readers.
Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry is one of the few horror stories that seeks to bridge the gap between the genre and young readers. It is the story of Benny Imura. He has recently turned 15 and like all teenagers in his town, he is required to get a job to receive his food rations. After several failed career attempts, he casts his lot with his brother Tom.
Tom Imura is a zombie hunter who traverses the Rot & Ruin. He provides closure to families who want their loved ones put to rest. Now with his brother Benny, Tom sets out to find the mysterious Lost Girl and put an end to Gameland, a place where women and children are forced to fight zombies for sport.
Many people love the novel, but often speak about how the first quarter of the book is difficult to get through. That is an understatement. The first quarter of the book is atrocious. It is meant to set up the world, but rather than exciting the reader it feels like a slog. Benny has enough teen angst to fill a 1,000 Pearl Jam albums and he isn’t very bright to boot.
Moreover, nothing is ever just said. Even the simplest of truths are revealed over time. It makes no sense. There many instances when it would benefit everyone, including the reader, to just say something and the characters choose not to.
Benny and Tom are venturing out into the Rot & Ruin. By Tom’s own account, this is a very dangerous place. However, instead of just telling Benny about the place, he has to tease at why it is dangerous for over a hundred pages and then show Benny because Benny has to make his own decisions. Really?
Now to be fair, Jonathan Maberry is a great writer. Despite the first quarter of the book he does manage a fairly good job of making the story work. His struggles are largely due to his efforts to craft the story into the first in a series. There is action and some fairly memorable characters. The setting is not terrible either.
Many people love Rot & Ruin. Yet, be warned, Maberry pulls his punches. It is after all a book for children. He has to skip over a lot of adult subject matter. As a result the bad guys do not look as bad as they might otherwise be portrayed. As a fantasy novel, it is fairly successful. However, the absence of horror elements makes it a hard sell for horror aficionados.