What do you when the last book in a beloved series is published? Do you wait to get it to draw out that last read? Do you start reading but only allow yourself one chapter per day to stretch out the experience as long as possible? Or do you tear through it because you have to know what happened to the characters you have grown to love?
In the case of Fire & Ash, the final book in the Rot & Ruin series by Jonathan Maberry, I took the last route. That’s unlike me; usually in other aspects of my life I am pretty disciplined and am able to delay always going for instant gratification, well when it comes to material things I want. However, I have to know what ultimately happens to Benny, Nix, Lilah and Chang.
We have all heard that “children are the future.” Well, I can tell you as a former teacher that was not a comforting thought. I saw a lot of immaturity, a lot of self-absorption rather than empathy, and much weakness rather than strength of character, and this was years ago well before the age of ‘helicopter parenting.’ Benny Imura is the kind of young adult character that post-apocalypse you would hope is out there.
The whole series is a beautifully written story about the transformation from youth to adulthood. It is rare for a YA author to capture the blend of change, its complexity, as well as the grief of leaving childhood and innocence behind so movingly and realistically. In the first book of the series, the hero appeared to be Benny’s older brother Tom, who despite being Japanese and known for his skill with a katana, was very much reminiscent of the type of hero in the book and movie Shane. However, Benny manages to surpass even his brother in bravery, loyalty and ultimately selflessness and wisdom in this final story. He is also not the only character who grows in this way. Nix, Benny’s childhood friend and first love displays all the complexities of women in one character. Their maturation is the real story here, so for anyone who has ever thought zombie books are not for them, I would challenge you to read just this series.
Yes, of course this is a zombie book in the sense that Benny, Nix, Lilah, Chang and newest character Riot have made it to Sanctuary. A refuge staffed by monks, scientists and military types such as Captain Joe Ledger, a real life GI Joe. Sanctuary doesn’t quite live up to its name though as the scientists interrogate Benny and his friends from behind the compound’s walls, Benny’s best friend Chang has almost fully transitioned to a zombie and Dr. McCready’s important research is missing; research that could not only help Chang but possibly save the world. Even scarier than the zombies themselves are the fanatic self-named Saint John and his followers, the savage reapers who have formed a religion that preaches all of the survivors are sinners, and must join them in their quest to kill all the remaining survivors or themselves die. Saint John has not forgotten about Benny and his friends and how that enmity plays out leads to the climax of the story.
When an author has written a truly epic tale, it’s an incredible task to write a fitting ending. In many cases I have been disappointed in how a series has been completed. However, I think Mr. Maberry has achieved that and my hat is off to him.