When this book first came in the mail, I had a momentary thought of “Maybe I should re-read the rest of the series before I read the conclusion and review the entire series?” My brain immediately shut that down with the thought “You’re re-reading the Joe Ledger series right now! What are you crazy??” Like Benny often does in this series, I promptly told my brain to shut up. But it had a point, so this review assumes one very important thing: That you have read the rest of the series and your reading enjoyment shall not be spoiled by anything that is common knowledge to readers of the series by the beginning of Fire & Ash. Writing this review would be very difficult without this assumption. I didn’t reread the entire series, but this story is so fluid along the four books that I found myself wanting to review what I liked about the whole series and not just rehashing the events of the final book. READER BEWARE.
Title: Fire & Ash (Rot & Ruin Book 4)
Author: Jonathan Maberry
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Genre: YA, Horror
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
I recently found my review on GoodReads for The New Dead, the zombie anthology where “Family Business”, the novella that was expanded into the first novel of the series, Rot & Ruin is published. I described that story has having lots of heart and I’m happy to report that the heart and emotion that is in “Family Business” has remained throughout the course of the four books in this series and leads to a very satisfying ending. There are three things that I have found rather appealing about this series:
1. The main character and his friends actually read like teenagers I might know- I think one of the reasons I don’t read YA anymore is because I can’t relate to the way teenagers live their lives these days. Maybe it’s due to the zombie apocalypse cutting out technology-obsessed culture or their “warrior smart” training, but the characters in this series feel less self-absorbed while still being very self-aware. They care about each other and relate to one another in a way that I understand. There’s a lot of cooperation and not a lot of backstabbing going on here. Even their relationships feel real, which I attribute to Maberry being able to write relationships that are complex but not overly complicated.
2. Adults actually exist in this world and work with the kids to change the world- “Adults handing this world over to the next generation” is a theme that permeates throughout this series. The story is not about the kids accomplishing difficult tasks without the help of any adults. In Fire & Ash, Joe Ledger, who had a cameo in Flesh & Bone, takes over the adult mentor role from Tom, who died at the end of Dust & Decay. Ledger is a slightly softer version of himself in this series than in his own, but shows a nice mix of compassion, his usual sarcasm and authority over the situation. I like that Ledger is someone (at least later on in the novel) that the kids can go to but there are still scenes of rebellion and independence that show how capable these teens have become in their own right. Ledger’s reluctancy at being a mentor in the face of the teens’ urgency to save their friend, Chong, allows for really great conflict between the generations without Ledger treating the teens like they’re too young to change their current situation. At their age, those teens should have some say as to how they want their world to be.
3, Zombies are people too (or at least they used to be)- The zombies in the Rot & Ruin series have always been monsters to be feared and also people who became sick and whose actions are not entirely their own. There’s something really emotional and scary about that. Especially now that one of Benny’s friends, Chong, is sick. As readers, we’ve followed Chong through the first three books and care about him. It makes the search for a cure all the more desparate for both the characters and the reader. I loved that Maberry’s resolution for the zombie plague isn’t entirely happy, but it works.
Overall, this final book wraps up the series quite nicely. I do have a few questions now about how the Joe Ledger series will evolve to include information given to the reader in Fire & Ash. I doubt those questions will bother anyone but those of us who read both series and are sticklers for details and continuity. Rot & Ruin is one of those series that I am kind of sad to see end. It’s a fun, action-packed, emotional rollercoaster of a ride.