We've looked at an unexpected book 2, and we've looked at the middle book of a trilogy. This week we're looking at book 2 of an ongoing series, Jonathan Maberry's YA zombie series Rot and Ruin.
So, what role does a second book play in a series which is longer than a trilogy, but has a defined (more or less) ending? Maberry's series about Benny Imura is (officially, sorta kinda) four books long, plus a fifth book which covers the actions of other people in the series, plus a set of interstitial e-books - so somewhere between four and ten books, is what I'm saying. So, when the series has four books, does that mean that book two serves half of the purpose of book two in a traditional trilogy? Does it need to point not only to book three, but also further, onto book four? How tightly does it connect to book one; is it more an extension of book one than it would be in a trilogy? All difficult questions to ponder, and I don't really have a clear answer. I think, in the case of a series, book two, and indeed any book in the series, has a more compelling need to stand on its own, while also connecting ongoing readers to the series as a whole. A new reader should be able to pick up book two and understand what is going on, but readers of book one should find something extra in their experience of book two. This need is less compelling here than it would be in a series with no defined end - that's next week, btw - but it's still a real need.
So, how does Dust and Decay hold up? Pretty well, I think. Obviously, it's going to be easier to follow the plot if you've read book one, but I think Maberry offers enough background in book two that new readers will not be lost. Effectively, if we consider the series as a classic quest story (which I think is a fair thing to do), I think this book could be considered book one, with Rot and Ruin working as the prologue in which the characters are prepared for their quest, and the quest is set. Over the remainder of the series, the heroes will pursue the quest to its conclusion, for good or ill. So, Maberry offers enough sign posts for readers to see where the story is going in a general sense, while also offering a compelling and internally satisfying narrative which is complete within this book. A neat trick. Also, perhaps, an answer to my questions above - one way to handle book two in a non-trilogy series is to redefine the role of all of the books in the series.
So, zombies. I love zombies. I considered doing a whole month of zombies for February, and I may yet do that. Maberry does all of the things we've come to expect from a zombie story - plenty of gore, lots of "the real monster is US" stuff, small huddled collections of humanity trying to keep hope alive, brave heroes venturing out into the zombie infested wilds to scavenge supplies, all of that. At the same time, there's a real and unique heart to these books. We care about what happens to Benny Imura and his friends, naturally, but we also care about what happens to the zombies - which is another neat trick. If you like zombies, and coming of age novels, and zombies, and hopeless quests through zombie infested wilderness, and surprisingly deep thoughts about what makes a person a person, and zombies, then this series is totally for you.