Enjoy this Monday with Mildred!
A lot of people have discovered the joys of YA novels in recent years, like The Hunger Games or The Fault in Our Stars or Divergent. Hollywood type people as well as readers. Back when, I was reluctant to read The Hunger Games because it’s a kid novel but CFR dragged me into the twenty first century by plopping a book down on my desk and giving me an, “Oh please, don’t be stupid” look.
That made me a lot more amenable to the Rot & Ruin series by Jonathan Mayberry. This guy cranks out a seriously large number of books, like the very popular Joe Ledger series beginning with Patient Zero, in which Joe is recruited by an enormously secret, sorta governmental group to head a platoon of GI Joe action heroes against terrorists bent on the destruction of the world via lab cooked zombies. I read the first three or so of those and was impressed with the serious research, the smooth prose, and the bash-the-reader-over-the-head-repeatedly action sequences. The only thing that didn’t make him one of my top favorite authors is that I don’t tend to like his characters very much. Still, I knew he had a way with zombies so I picked up Dead of Night which has the small town of Stebbins, Pennsylvania menaced by a seriously horrible zombie outbreak with only a woman cop named Des to try and raise the alarm and defend what’s left of the populous. Didn’t care much for her, either, but hey at least Mayberry has kick butt women characters in his books so I don’t complain too much.
Rot & Ruin is one of those after-the-fall zombie series, so it’s that much more about society and messages and living peoples’ stories than the actual zombies, though as befits a fan of George Romero, there are zombie “types”, some of which have Action Cards made of them – like “The Bride of Coldwater Springs”. I like Mayberry’s web page blurb, so here:
In the zombie-infested, post-apocalyptic America where Benny Imura lives, every teenager must find a job by the time they turn fifteen or get their rations cut in half.
This first book of the series is pretty good and introduces an alien world where nearly everyone hides behind fences and pretends the rest of the world isn’t full of zombies. Picture ten thousand people sticking their fingers in their ears and singing “Sha na na” with their eyes screwed shut. Benny’s older brother Tom is one of the people with the nerve and the skill to go beyond the fence, and that’s how he makes a living to provide for what’s left of his family after First Night.
The next book, Dust & Decay goes almost entirely into the Ruin – the area beyond the fence – and gets a lot meaner than the not-so-gentle first novel. The story becomes even more intricate as we learn about power struggles in the Ruin and how utterly insane the world has become. As Mayberry is fond of saying in his blurbs: In the great Rot & Ruin, everything wants to kill you.
Third in the series is Flesh & Bone which sees our gang wandering almost aimlessly in the American west, learning that they only THOUGHT they knew how perilous the world was. Ever more dangerous people and situations are thrown at them, but mostly what we read is about Benny Imura pouting like a bitty baby. A new character emerges and I totally didn’t notice his significance until much later because, you know, I’m a little slow. More on that later.
Last is Fire & Ash, where every danger converges on the center of the universe: Benny Imura and his gang. The zombies have gotten more dangerous, the insane people have swelled in number and decided to kill EVERYONE left in the world, and a possible cure to zombieism might fall into the wrong hands. After the wreck (in my opinion) that was Flesh & Bone, I was happy to see the series right itself a bit with the last book. There is more action, more forward momentum, and a chilling build up to a slam-bang finish.
As a whole the series is a strong entry into the zombie novel craze, but I found the going tough in the third act, and again, I didn’t care much for the characters. No matter what happens, no matter how much time passes, Benny never even begins to grow up, preferring to pout and whine and be crappy to his friends. His friends are patient with him to the point of making me want to hit them with my book. The peripheral characters are very interesting, and the evil people are seriously scary bad.
Just released is Bits & Pieces, a series of First Night and backstory shorts featuring main characters and popular co-stars from the Rot & Ruin series. I found the stories uneven. Some were so uninspired they were difficult to read, and others were terribly poignant and I wish they were a lot longer. Hanging over all of it was my ongoing problem with nearly every Mayberry character (though YMMV), and the malaise I felt on discovering the spoiler outlined below.
The biggest problem for me with this series has to be covered in a big ole spoiler. If you’re interested in the Rot & Ruin series, read them first and then come back to this review. SERIOUS SPOILERS at the bottom of this post.
*!BEGIN SERIOUS SPOILERS!*
What I didn’t realize until understanding just who, exactly, that new character was in the series is that all of Mayberry’s zombie books are in the same damn universe. The new guy is Joe Ledger, and he befriends Benny and the gang in Flesh & Bone. You understand what this means, right? Two important things. First, I have to go back and re-read all the books. That ticks me off, man. Who’s got that kind of time? Second, it invalidates all the Joe Ledger novels. He lost. In the end, the zombies won and all the hard work and sacrifice from him and his secret organization were for naught. And that makes it even more difficult to get up the energy to go back and read them again.
Dead of Night and Fall of Night are actually the telling of the zombie apocalypse that got away from Joe Ledger. It’s the story of First Night and how this plague got the upper hand in small town Pennsylvania.
There is a concept introduced in the first pages of Dead of Night that gave me a serious case of the creeps when I read that book, and has bothered me a lot after figuring out those zombies are the Rot & Ruin zombies. You see, they’re sentient. The zombie spoor invades their body and takes over, but the brain is still actively that of the bitten victim. When you get to Rot & Ruin Mayberry tells us that a lot of people don’t want to kill the zombies and leave most of them to eventually run out of motivation and stand, and stand, and stand. Eventually, plants grow up around them and the dead but animated body rots to bone. I suppose it’s not quite so horrible as being buried alive. At least you can watch the seasons go by.