Dust & Decay (Benny Imura #2)

Read:  2014

Author:  Jonathan Maberry

Published:  2012

Genre:  Young Adult

Pages:  519 (hardcover)

Selected By:  Lady Esbe

Lady Esbe’s Score:  Scoring Liked Book

“Six months have passed since the terrifying battle with Charlie Pink-eye and the Motor City Hammer in the zombie-infested mountains of the Rot & Ruin.  It’s also been six months since Benny Imura and Nix Riley saw something in the air that changed their lives.  Now, after months of rigorous training with Benny’s zombie-hunter brother, Tom, Benny and Nix are ready to leave their home forever and search for a better future. Lilah the Lost Girl and Benny’s best friend, Lou Chong, are going with them.

“But before they even leave, there is a shocking zombie attack in town, and as soon as they step into the Rot & Ruin, they are pursued by the living dead, wild animals, insane murderers, and the horrors of Gameland – where teenagers are forced to fight for their lives in the zombie pits. Worst of all: could the evil Charlie Pink-eye still be alive?

“In the great Rot & Ruin, everything wants to kill you.  And not everyone in Benny’s small band of travelers will survive…” – from the Amazon summary.

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Lady Esbe’s Review

I must say, I preferred Rot & Ruin to Dust & Decay.  We still have some of the same issues as we had in the first book, Good vs Evil Men, people willing to do nothing and expect so much from others, misunderstandings, personal growth and of course to see that not everyone is as wholesome as you thought they were.  We are introduced to quite a few new characters.  Some you’ll loathe and some you absolutely find yourself rooting for.

While the zombie aspect is still more peripheral, we are offered a new twist in this installment.  We know the little province of Mountainside was set up to function and survive after the great plague.  However, there are certain jobs, many jobs that function solely to prevent addition to the zombie population.  As a refresher, everyone is to lock themselves in (especially the infirm or elderly) to ensure that someone does not die, come back then attack the remainder of their household, which does happen in this particular installment.  However, the twist this time is that, not everyone comes back.  This offers our merry band of adventurers something to contemplate, but not too hard or for too long because they have more pressing issues to deal with.  Is there a biological reason or is it the will of the person not to come back? No, the question was not answered but it is out there.

 We find Benny, Lilah, Nix, Chong and Morgie still training daily with Tom.  Ultimately, Benny, Nix, Lilah and Tom are setting out to travel east in search of the jet that was previously spotted in the prior novel.  As they start out we find Benny still being a slightly obnoxious teenager, as per the usual.  He appears to be more aware of his possibly boneheaded comments than what he had been previously.  He is aware that he has conflicted feelings and chooses not to rock the boat, until you add the stress of the Ruin into his day to day activities.  Young Benny has many things to be stressed about and his attitude is certainly understandable through most of the novel.  However, I will not let that excuse his moments of ignorant and absolutely uncalled for behavior.  The very thing I convicted Nix of in the first book, is now perpetrated by Benny.  He shamelessly and wrongly directed his hurt, worry and anguish at the wrong people caused me to want to throttle him on occasion.  However, his glimmers of brilliance, ingenuity and handling pressure, redeems him when he sinks to a new low.

Nix continues to be the cerebral one.  However, I found her to be more self-absorbed and obnoxious this go around than previously.  She has the occasion bout of selflessness that does very little to impress upon me that she is truly a caring individual.  I found her to be manipulative (as many women can be) of Benny in his feelings for her.  She plays games with his feelings and that irked me.  However, she is able to put Benny in his place when needed.  However, her dogmatic pursuit is more than a little annoying to me.  I understand her desire to leave Mountainside.  She has nothing left there and life in this small community seems to be suffocating her and her crew.  I applaud her finding her strength again, during the course of the novel.  However, I find some of her actions foolhardy and ridiculous; an improvement on the last installment is that  I didn’t find myself rooting for her demise this time.

I was a bit disappointed but understood the need for the evolution of Lilah.  Her moving to Mountainside has caused to make herself vulnerable.  She has gone from being self-reliant and feral to a feral but communal person.  I think Maberry was attempting to show, despite her toughness, despite the years spent in solitude, she is still very vulnerable and does require some guidance.  She is able to see the Ruin for what it is, battle zombies and men as needed.  However, interpersonal interactions of friendship, love, crush and her self-perception leaves her in a position of being socially underdeveloped person due to her formative years.  What she knows of life is what she has learned from books and from life in the Ruin.  It is inevitable with so many things having happened in her young life and so much responsibility being piled onto her narrow, but powerful shoulders, that she would have a breakdown.  Luckily, she was able to work through her issues with someone wise, kind and only had her best interest at heart.

Chong has a more substantial role in this particular rendition.  Chong is clearly book smart and despite his training with Tom, practical application of his knowledge is a little painful to endure.  He’s unsure of himself and he’s completely smitten with Lilah.  Does he have something to prove? Yes, to himself, Lilah and those he would impact otherwise.  There is growth for Chong, but I found myself wanting to beat him within an inch of his life.  However, there must be a catalyst to some of the conflict to come and boy does Chong provide it.  Despite his boneheaded actions, I found myself rooting for him to survive, at least to prove that Tom did right by him in his training.

Before we move on to my favorite character, I want to deal with the introduction of new characters.  We are introduced to two new villains by way of Preacher Jack and White Bear.  Both are imposing despite the vast difference in their appearances.  Preacher Jack gives you a creepy vibe that you can’t shake from his introduction.  He’s by no means a holy man, despite his claims, his actions speak much louder than any words he speaks…which is bat**** insane.   White Bear is as physically imposing as his name implies.  Both men are ruthless, disillusioned and rather insane.  However, their concern with the deceased Charlie Pink Eye becomes more evident as the novel presses on and is rather disturbing.  However, they are not the most disturbing villains despite their hand in reinstating  Gameland.

Maberry made a very good effort in illustrating that not all villains will be presented to us as monsters.  The seemingly ordinary townsfolk who attend Gameland were a shock to our protagonists and gave them yet another lesson in appearances.  Benny and Nix come to find that school teachers, shopkeepers and various other inhabitants of Mountainside were just as guilty as Preacher Jack and White Bear.  Without their patronage, there would not be a need for Gameland.  I think just as in this time, when people attend cock fights, dog fights, back alley brawls and the like they are the dregs of society who’s mentality is entertainment at the pain and expense of an unwilling participant is and will always be beyond me.  I appreciate Maberry showing that those among us that we least expect to be a sadist or a serial killer or a pedophile or any number of despicable things are often wrapped in the most ordinary and mundane package.  It’s a tough lesson learned for Nix, Benny and Tom.

While the villains are numerous, we are also introduced to allies of Tom, fellow Closure Specialists that are almost as noble and completely loyal to Tom.  Sally Two Knives is my favorite.  She happens upon a kidnapped Chong and attempts to help him at her own peril.  She didn’t need to be asked, even if she mistook Chong for Benny, she still knew that the child was of some importance to Tom and had no problem jumping into the fray to be injured herself.  She was injured and still pushed on to warn Tom and ultimately, helped assemble the cavalry to help Tom.  I was a wee bit jealous when she kissed Tom, but I was also saying, “Go Sally!”We are also introduced to Dr. Skillz and J-Dog, two ex-surfers who are gnarly in their own right.  They are comic relief.  Despite their crazy combat skills, they make you chuckle even while they are doing their job.  It’s Bill and Ted meets zombies.  There are a host of other Closure specialists who come into the last battle of the book that causes us some bits of concern for their safety and applaud their contribution to what I deemed, the Battle at Gameland.

We are also introduced to the more serene, Greenman.  This character did a great service to Benny, Nix and Lilah.  However, his service to Lilah was far more substantial than the food he provided Benny & Nix.  I couldn’t help but appreciate his calming demeanor, treating Lilah with a kind human touch, almost as one would take on a skittish animal that has been abused and nurses it back to health.  He offers insights or more importantly, he poses questions to Lilah that causes her to reflect and draw her own conclusions and make her own decisions versus telling her what to do.  I find the result to be exactly as we would want, a stronger Lilah.

Finally we come to Tom.  As with the first novel, I adore Tom.  I’d marry Tom if he existed in reality.  I was pleased that Tom stood up for himself, calling out the town on their lack of action when he attempts to leave Mountainside on their quest east.  He points out on multiple occasions he has suggested a militia to police the Ruin to make sure that the likes of Charlie Pink Eye and others be held into check.  I appreciated the fact that he put the town’s people in their place when they tried to make the policing of the Ruin his responsibility and his alone.  One man cannot do it alone and for people who were complacent enough to take the stance of only what was going on in town was their responsibility was ridiculous and sounds like what we find in our society even today.  Tom would not be deterred and I agree with him.  Why keep butting your head against a wall that was unwilling to budge for their betterment?  Unfortunately, I feel like the toll of being a Closure Specialist has pushed Tom to the end of his rope and his seeking escape from his responsibilities of Mountainside and the Ruin has him eagerly walking away.  I was not disappointed by this, in fact, I applauded him standing up for himself.  However, Tom is Tom, but we see a more badass Tom than before.  Yes, he was zen, yes he was awesomely skilled.  Yet, we get to see a purposely ruthless Tom and I loved it.

I think it was a good effort.  I didn’t like this one as much as I liked the first installment.  However, it was still a good read.  I admit, I got a little teary-eyed by the end.  It did not end the way I wanted, but there are lessons that had to be learned and questions that arise that must be answered.  I liked the additional characters we were introduced to and truly enjoyed their contribution to the effort made in the novel.  Overall, it was a pretty good read.  So, yes, I’m pushing on in the series despite losing who I feel is a key character.

 Lady Esbe read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.

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