Fire & Ash (Benny Imura #4)

Read:  2015

Author:  Jonathan Maberry

Published:  2013

Genre:  Mystery

Pages:  544 (paperback)

Selected By:  Lady Esbe

Lady Esbe’s Score: 

Scoring Loved Book

Benny Imura and his friends have found the jet and Sanctuary – but neither is what they expected.  Instead of a refuge, Sanctuary is a hospice, and the soldiers who flew the plane seem to be little more than bureaucrats who have given up hope for civilization’s future.  With Chong hovering between life and death, clinging to his humanity by a thread, Benny makes a startling discovery: a scientist may have discovered a cure for the zombie plague.  Desperate to save Chong, Benny and his friends mount a search and rescue mission.  But they’re not the only ones on the hunt.  The reapers are after the cure, too, and they want to use it to turn all the zombies into superfast shock troops – and wipe humanity off the face of the earth.  In this riveting conclusion to the Rot & Ruin series, the battle to end all battles is just beginning.” – from the Amazon summary.

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Lady Esbe’s Review

“How scary are you willing to be in order to take the heart of an enemy?  Are you willing to be the monster in the dark?  Are you willing to be the boogeyman of their nightmares?”

As a finale to the series, I gotta say, this book had it all.  I was wondering if I would be disappointed and I can say, I am most definitely not.  As usual, Jonathan Maberry weaves such an intricate and interesting tale.  He moves us from the small base/ encampment of Sanctuary  to the Badlands and back to the Nine Towns  of California, all the while showing us how Benny and his compadres have grown through the four novels.  The above quote is poignant and a theme that is necessary throughout the entire series of books.

When we left Benny, Nix, Chong and Lilah in Flesh & Bone, they had come across a deserter from the Night’s Church, Riot and the child in her charge Eve.  Chong had been infected with the Reaper Plague, the virus that caused the outbreak and his treatment was being handled at Sanctuary, thanks to Captain Joe Ledger helping the teenagers defeat a rogue band of the Night’s Church.  The story picks up with Chong’s deterioration as a result of the virus and his band of misfit warriors attempting to save his life.  This sparks Benny into action to find the answers they are seeking to cure Chong.  Of course, no plan or course of action is ever simple for Benny Imura and he runs into pitfalls, traps and bureaucracy at every turn in his efforts to save Chong and ultimately, his home of Mountainside and the remaining Nine Towns. 

Maberry does an amazing job in criticizing bureaucracy.  In the last installment, we were educated as to the existence of a  government that rose up after the fall of America to the Reaper Plague.  This small group of people who organized themselves into fighting the zombies and the plague were still attempting to live in the old world by keeping secrets, compartmentalizing people and information and ultimately, not being as effective as it could be.  Joe Ledger was charged with fighting zombies, the Night Church, protecting American Nation and doing what an old war horse does.  However, one of your elite, a person you trust to protect your interests, you give him partial information and hinder his progress in what he is charged.  How effective is that exactly? Nix challenges the Sanctuary commanding officer to not forget the Nine Towns, who unbeknownst to them, were part of a nation that still had a governing body.  While the people did not know, the government knew of them from Joe Ledger and did nothing to ensure that these people were brought into the fold and protect them from the divisive and destructive groups such as the Night’s church, or even criminals like Charlie Pink-eye.

“But there never was a country, no matter how noble or well-intentioned, that wasn’t infected by a greed and power-hungry few.  It’s no different from those parasites infecting the zoms.  We can’t really blame the entire country, but we can sure as hell despise the parasites.”

I’ve never been a fan of Nix in the series and that doesn’t really change here.  I still find her to be self-centered and pretentious.   I was particularly miffed during the scene before they go off on a suicide mission and she feels it necessary to explain to Benny that she isn’t in love with him anymore.  Really?  this was the time to have that little chat?  While the words needed to be said, I still think her timing stinks and she’s still a brat wanting her way.  She is still a teenager with all her insecurities and her possibly tainted view on how things should be, she is still a fierce warrior and that I can respect.

“Reality is often harsher than fiction.  Slower, and far less satisfying.”

We see very little of Chong throughout the book, but what we see is necessary.  We see is de-evolution into being a thing that is just hungry version of himself.  Yet, even in his darkest moments, Chong is still there and a true blue companion to Benny and his cohorts.  Even when all seemed lost and Chong was severely infected, he fought just as hard as any of the others to save himself and his own.  Of the group, while Chong changed the most physically, I don’t think he changed the core of who he was.  He was still intellectual and willing to call a spade a spade.

We get a ping pong of Lilah.  She is and will forever be the Lost Girl.  However, coming into Benny’s world, she has adapted and begrudgingly accepted their friendship and Chong’s love.  She loves Chong fiercely and is willing to fight for it despite her loss of her sister at Gameland and her guardian after First Night George.  At those loses, she sank into herself and honed her fighting skills.  She is always the fierce warrior, but with the feelings she develops for Chong, she causes herself to have to shut down when there is the very real possibility that she may lose yet someone else she loves.  However, that does not stop her fighting for Chong.

We were introduced to Saint John and his deluded minions, Reapers and the Red Brotherhood in the previous installment.  He and his right hand, Brother Peter are as ruthless as they come in killing.  However, who I find more ruthless is Sister Sun.  She is the scientist among them that makes it a point of attempting to spread the plague.  After all, the Night’s Church is a cult that thrives on death and destruction, would it be too far off that one among them would take it to a scientific level.  While Saint John’s charisma  or terror, and Brother’s Peter’s deadly intentions are a force to be reckoned with, I feel that the deadly cold and venomous behavior of the cancer stricken Sister Sun is just insane.

“No, that’s a myth; it’s a lie of bad logic.  People who don’t understand, who haven’t seen what we’ve seen, say that if you use violence in defense, then you’re just the same as the people who attacked you, that you’re just as bad.  But it’s not true.  If they hadn’t started this, we’d have not thought this up.”

Joe Ledger, while a fierce special forces operator, he is still a man who believes that children should be children.  He attempts to discourage Benny from taking steps farther than he has to defend himself and those he loves. While Joe challenges Benny to look at himself, what he is made of and who he wants to be, I do believe these are questions that Joe asks himself every day as he fights on.   I feel that since we lost Tom in the series, we have a man who is similar to Tom, but harsher around the edges because he is an old special forces war dog and saw much more than Tom had seen his short life.  I enjoy that Joe still has a heart and wants to protect the youngsters, but I also understand that he’s being a bit naive in that he thinks he can protect them from what has already transpired and what is coming down the pike.

We have a brief reappearance of Morgie and in him we see the regret and growing up he has done.  He’s grown into his stature, thanks to Tom’s training.  He is strong, observant and willing to put himself on the line for those he loves.  I do like how Maberry brings in characters that makes you wonder how they would turn out without those who most influenced them being around.

We are also introduced to a scientist who has an end to the Reaper Plague.  As scientist go, Dr. Monica McReady is as arrogant as they come and stubborn to boot.  However, she is patient about her cause, and that I can appreciate.  While locked alone in a test facility, she mass produced as much treatment as she could while she was there.  While she could be belligerent, with coxing she would explain all that she knew and all that she believed to be true.  I liked her interactions with  Joe.  They were human and not afraid to confront each other on the essence of who each were.

Finally, I come to Benny Imura himself.  Just as in the last novel, this novel has a lot of introspection for Benny.  However, this time he has answers for himself rather than mere questions.  There are points here where he is so lucid and aware of who is and what he wants to accomplish and how he got there, you can’t help but applaud his journey into self realization.  I enjoy that he’s matured from a young man who had no understanding, to young man who sees himself and situations clearly.  I enjoyed his observation about guns:

“In truth Benny didn’t like guns.  Tom had been shot to death.  Benny had no moral objections to Nix and the others having them; no, his decision was entirely personal.  He was afraid that if he carried one then he would be tempted to use it too often, to use it to solve problems rather than finding other solutions.”

Thoughts like this occur frequently during this rendition.  Benny tests his beliefs, his willingness and ability to carry out difficult tasked based off of difficult decisions he’s made.  Benny is defiant when it calls for it.  A leader at other times and downright a mastermind at others.  He is evidence that age is just a number, but how you use your acumen and tenacity are the true measure of your age.

Overall, I’m glad the series is done, in that I have a resolution.  I hope that with the newly discovered Benny we see more adventures for him and Joe.  I think the resolution was a great one, but I would like to see it taken a step beyond.  Great read overall.

Esbe read the Kindle version of this book.

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