The First Night occurred 14 years ago, the day when the dead rose. Benny Imura was only a baby that night and only has fuzzy memories of being handed to his older half brother, Tom, and Tom running away, leaving his mother to die. This image is burned into his mind and he sees his brother as a coward. Now, society isn’t as it used to be. Instead of large sprawling cities, civilization is reduced to small, sparse settlements. Benny is 15, which, in the society left in the wake of the dead, means that he has to get a job or lose half of his food rations. He goes job hunting with a friend, but doesn’t have any luck due to being overly picky and generally lazy. His only option left is becoming an apprentice to Tom in his bounty hunting business. Benny figures this job will entail going out into the Rot and Ruin to slice and dice zombies, but the experiences beyond the boundaries of civilization will serve to not only change his view of his brother, but of life and undeath.
Jonathan Maberry is an accomplished zombie novelist (as in he writes awesome zombie novels and isn’t really a zombie...I hope). His writing style and skilled story telling translate well into a young adult book. Benny is a completely believable character who has the misfortune to grow up in a zombie-ridden world. Now, the society he lives in expects him to grow up and become self sufficient, which he resisted at every turn. I found him very annoying at this point. He is completely ashamed of his big brother and refuses to try to get to know him. The first half of the book consists of him whining, complaining, and running away from responsibility until he has no other option. After his brother takes him into the Rot and Ruin (which is the uninhabited ruin of the past that surrounds their small settlement), everything changes. Benny sees things he can never forget. He questions the other bounty hunters’ ethics when he sees them torture zombies and doesn’t see them as the epitome of cool anymore. Tom reminds him that zombies were once people and just because their corpses are walking around doesn’t make it ok to mutilate their bodies for amusement. He only kills them when it’s truly needed or he gets a request from a loved one. Only Maberry can make it absolutely heartbreaking to kill a zombie. Benny really grows as a person and makes decisions about his own morals and ethics as we all do when we grow up.
The world in the novel is both smaller and larger than it seems in real life. It’s smaller because technology and electricity are irrationally shunned and blamed for the zombie apocalypse. Their pockets of society stay small and can’t easily connect with other cities let alone other states or continents. It’s bigger because now that society is more compact, the wide open spaces are almost like the US before it was ever settled: full of possibility yet dangerous and wild. I have never seen a world quite like this one and the next book, Dust and Decay, should expand the view of it.
Rot and Ruin is an exceptional zombie book. Jonathan Maberry manages to capture the familiar coming of age experience to and transports it into a strange, post-apocalyptic, zombie ridden world. I would recommend it to any zombie fan.
My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins