Wow, what a book! I could barely put this down, it is so intense and action packed. This is the second installment of the Benny Imura series, the first being Rot & Ruin. These are young adult thriller zombie books with a decidedly human twist.
Dust & Decay sees Benny Imura, his brother Tom, and their friends Nix, Chong and Lilah sevens month after destroying Gameland. They have trained and are leaving the safety of town to go after the airplane they saw fly past, and to go after a different life.
This book really drew me in, right from the first lines, and each chapter had me wanting to read the next one. Maberry's writing is often fast and abrupt, which adds to the pace of the book. I loved how the humour, tension, action and horror mixed with the human story and how invested we become in the characters. There were also some great twists and turns. I don't want to give anything away, but I even shed a few tears at the end, I was so wrapped up in the story. The addition of a page from Nix's journal here and there was a good one as it answered a lot of the questions about the back story and asked a lot of the same questions I had about the zombies and the Rot & Ruin.
I enjoyed how the characters developed in this story, particularly Benny and Chong. Benny has really matured. I loved his ambivalence about going out into the Rot & Ruin as this seemed authentic and human. It would be difficult for most people to leave the world they know and its safety for the danger and uncertainty of a new life, especially a dangerous one. However, he has made his decision, and once he is out in the Rot & Ruin, his training and level headedness shows.
Chong was also great and showed real growth. He seems authentic in his desire to go out into the Rot & Ruin, to have the adventure, but only for one day. He doesn't take the situation completely seriously, just a I could see many teens doing. The consequences of his actions put him in a position to show what he is really made of and examine himself, which he does. It is sad to see him lose his last shred of innocence, especially because I felt for him.
There are also great female characters in this book in Nix and Lilah. They are strong and can fend for themselves, something missing in many books where the girls have to be saved all of the time or are only accidentally strong. Nix is smart and hurting from the events of the first book, but she can certainly hold her own. Lilah is all brawn and "street smart" but learns more about her human side as the book goes on.
What I especially love about this series is how Maberry explores what it means to be human. Dust & Decay explores various themes along these lines: what it is to really live - is it OK to bury your head in the sand and exist and be safe, or is it better to take risks and be free and live?; the nature of evil - how intention and free will is needed to be evil; and how people act without laws - will evil and fear dominate with lawlessness, do we need a moral compass to tell us how to behave?
Something I haven't mentioned yet are the zombies. Yes, this is definitely a zombie book and there are lots of zombies and graphically violent scenes. There is also an underlying level of violence to the whole book, between the zombies and the bounty hunters. I am not normally one for violent books, but the scenes do fit the story and do not seem out of place or gratuitous.
I loved this book and would easily recommend it to those who like zombie or action and adventure books or are OK with violent scenes. There are great male and female characters in this book, which should appeal to both boys and girls. I can see the length being initially off putting for some kids, but if they can get into it, the fast pace should carry them along. My own son who is 12 loved Rot & Ruin and has made me promise to buy him a print copy of Dust & Decay when it comes out at the end of August. Personally, I can't wait to see what is next for Benny and his friends in the next book.