Book Review: Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry

Hi all…

When I am moved by good storytelling, it usually provokes more than a surface-level emotional response. When I’m moved to tears by a writer, it’s something truly special. But before I get to talking about Rot & Ruin, I want to make a strange analogy…

On American Idol, the judges are fond of saying that some contestants could “sing the phone book” and they would pay to listen. I think the same thing exists with writers. Some gifted wordsmiths have the magical ability to imbue so much life to their stories that I think they could probably randomly select one of Georges Polti’s The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations, a random genre, setting, and character, and create a story that you would enjoy 99% of the time. Not every writer has that gift, but a few do.

Jonathan Maberry first came to my attention in 2009 with his book Patient Zero, which combines one hell of an action plot with zombies for a fast-paced, engaging story. I’ll be the first to tell you that I like zombies, but I really like some of the deeper, emotionally-charged zombie stories of recent years. Books like Mira Grant’s Feed, David Moody‘s Autumn, and some of the unique short fiction anthologies of zombie fiction like The New Dead really get my imagination pumping.

One of the stories in 2010’s The New Dead was Maberry’s “Family Business,” which quite honestly was one of the most moving stories I’ve read in a long time. I was wiping away tears as I read it on a plane a year ago. And when I heard that it was the beginning of a new young adult series he was working on, I became very excited.

The world of “The Family Business” and Rot & Ruin exists after a zombie uprising known simply as First Night. After First Night, everything changed and survivors began gathering together in walled cities to keep the zombies outside. Benny Imura just turned fifteen and has grown up after First Night, so he didn’t know the world before. His brother Tom survived the event and went on to become one of the most respected zombie killers in the area. When Benny can’t quite hack it at any of the other jobs in town (locksmith, fence tester, generator repair man, artist, and many more), he decides it must be time to try the family business and learn the trade from his brother…

As with most decisions that seem simple at the time, Benny has no idea what he’s getting himself into. Though he idolizes some of the other zombie killers like Charlie Pink-Eye and Motor City Hammer, he doesn’t understand why Tom is always mentioned along with them as one of the best. He always thought his brother was a bit of a wimp because he tried to avoid violent conflict. But when he starts learning how to hunt and how Tom works, he’s thrust into a violent world where the worst things aren’t always the zombies.

Rot & Ruin is an amazing story on many levels. It expands on the short story in a variety of ways, fleshing out the world that includes bad dudes, cool chicks, and mysteries galore. I am very excited to see where the story goes in the next book – Dust & Decay – out later this year.

This definitely isn’t for all readers. There is a lot of violence, discussion of rape, and scary situations. So be sure to think about who reads it if you’re considering it for a particularly young reader. The Young Adult (YA) label is very appropriate in this case. But if you are a zombie fan and want to get a YA reader hooked on the genre, it’s tough to beat Rot & Ruin.

Jonathan Maberry is a gifted author with a penchant for creating engaging worlds, plots, and characters to suck you into a story that won’t let you go. Definitely check out Rot & Ruin if you’re looking for a great zombie story!

–Fitz

p.s. Check out these great books from Jonathan Maberry…

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Book Review: Starlighter by Bryan Davis

Hi there…

Every now and then, a new young adult (YA) book comes to my attention to read. As a parent, I’m always on the lookout for well-written fiction with positive role models. Unfortunately, sometimes that means that YA is based in the real world and fairly boring for those of us a bit older than the target audience. Though the real world can be exciting in and of itself, I tend to look for a bit more of an escape for my eldest daughter.

Though the Eragon and Harry Potter series both have kids in leading roles, except for the first couple of books I never really felt they were aimed at the pre-teen market. Starlighter, the first in the new Dragons of Starlight series from author Bryan Davis seems to be tailor made for younger readers.

Starlighter focuses on two main characters from two different worlds linked by history – Jason Masters, newly appointed bodyguard to the governor; and Koren, a slave to the whims of dragons. Each seems built to be a hero and save the day.

Jason’s brother Adrian is the bodyguard to the governor. When Adrian goes on an adventure to discover the truth behind a conspiracy that’s lived in rumor and half-truths for a generation or more, Adrian leaves Jason in his role as bodyguard to Governor Prescott and gives him a message tube with a cryptic message. The message opens a can of worms that leads Jason on a wild ride through dungeons, caves, and into a whole new world…

Elsewhere in the solar system, Koren is discovering that the dragons of her world may also be keeping secrets. For generations, her people have served the dragons tooth and claw – mining, cleaning, raising more children as slaves. The dragons say they are protecting her people, but Koren discovers many of them are waiting for the prophecy of a mysterious black egg to come true. Unfortunately, the prophecy may also lead to the destruction of her world.

As with much young adult fiction, these characters are larger than life with amazing resolve and fantastic skills to keep them alive on their perilous journey between worlds. Along the way, they meet other characters like Randall Prescott, son to the governor who turns out to be an ally; Elyssa, a girl thought kidnapped by bears who can see glimpses of the future; and Tibalt, a crazy prisoner with riddles containing clues to what they should do next.

With 400 pages, the book moves quickly with great descriptions to help readers visualize each step of the way – from the smell of the noxious gas released during mining, to the rising cold waters as the group is trying to figure out how to open the gateway between Jason and Koren’s two worlds. Davis’ writing style reminded me a bit of The Eye of the World – the first book in Robert Jordan‘s Wheel of Time series.

By the end of the book, I was left with many questions and wondering what Jason and his friends would do to survive the trouble they find in the dragon world of Starlight, so I’ll definitely be interested to see what happens in the next book of the series. However – I would definitely recommend this book to younger readers instead of adults seeking more complex themes.

That’s not to say that Starlighter isn’t an enjoyable read. The concept of a pair of worlds bound together through a shared history and the enslavement of humans by dragons is not something I can recall in other fantasy fiction. However, it’s pretty easy to see who the good guys (and dragons) are and who isn’t helping out the characters as they chug along.

If you have a pre-teen interested in a fantasy story with swords, magic, and dragons – I’d definitely recommend you pick up a copy of Starlight for their enjoyment. Davis has a gift for storytelling I’ll be sharing with my daughters soon!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this and other great books from Barnes & Noble below!

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