Benny was only eighteen months old on First Night, so he doesn't remember much, and he certainly doesn't remember much of what life was like before it. He remembers police sirens and gunfire and his mother's screams, and he remembers his older brother crying as he carried Benny away.
That memory is what makes Benny Imura roll his eyes at the acclaim his brother Tom -- now a zombie hunter -- receives. Because Benny knows the truth: his brother is a coward.
But now Benny, in dire need of a job and with all other avenues exhausted, becomes Tom's apprentice. In doing so, he begins to see that the world outside of the fences -- out in the great Rot & Ruin -- is very different from what he'd ever imagined. That the zombies might not be the most monstrous creatures out there, that the heroes might not be nearly as heroic, and that there might be much more to Tom Imura than meets the eye.
There are many reasons that Rot & Ruin made this year's Cybils YA SF/F shortlist, but all of those reasons boiled down to this: Rot & Ruin is awesome.
It starts with the line:
Benny Imura couldn't hold a job, so he took to killing.
And it goes from there. It's very much a western, with a dry and dusty setting, and complete with multiple WooeeWooeeWoo WahWahWah Will-They-Or-Won't-They-Draw-Their-Weapons-And-If-They-Do-Who-Will-Be-Faster moments, as well as a Oh-They-Won't-See-This-Coming (a la Serenity) secret attack towards the end. And of course, as the Imura brothers are of Japanese descent and Tom Imura fights with a samurai sword, it's impossible to read this without thinking of Kurosawa.
The characterization is a bit dodgy -- other than Benny and Tom and Nix, most of the other players are pretty one-note -- and the prose is uneven. Some is great:
Riding ponies around town was no kind of preparation for riding a big horse. His hips felt like his thighs had been forcibly unscrewed, and after all the awkward bouncing in the saddle, he was pretty sure there was no chance he'd ever father children. He tried not to squeak when he spoke.
And some, not so much:
In another place, under other circumstances, what Tom did next might have seemed silly or corny, but out here in the Rot and Ruin it had a strange sense of grandeur, perhaps of nobility.
If Tom's upcoming action had that grandeur, that nobility, it shouldn't be necessary to tell the reader that it wasn't corny, you know?
But the world-building is excellent, the pacing is great, and the pages practically turn themselves. It's a story about not only making the best of a post-apocalyptic nightmare, but looking through and past it, forward into the future. The action/adventure never detracts from or overshadows the Imura brothers' changing relationship -- really, it highlights it.
While a sequel isn't necessary, the door is wide open, and I'd welcome one.
Book source: ILLed through my local library.