It's too bad there's no book genre for "coming of age story set in a zombie post apocalypse", because if there was, the Rot & Ruin series by Jonathan Maberry would be the king of that genre. Even if you were just looking for zombies, you could do a lot worse than following the zombie-fighting struggles of Benny Imura.
Set fourteen years after First Night, the start of the civilization-ending zombie outbreak, Rot & Ruin tells the story of teenaged Benny Imura. Just a baby when society collapsed, he has grown up sheltered in the somber town of Mountainside, defended by high fences. He comes to age and needs to pick a job in the town. Reluctantly he asks his older brother and guardian Tom to give him a job quieting the dead out beyond the walls in the wastes, known as the Rot & Ruin.
The Rot & Ruin is not a good place. Besides the zombies, lawlessness reigns outside the walls. The living that have survived out there are just as dangerous as the zombies, sometimes moreso. And there's rumors of a terrible place that the wicked love and good people fear, a place called Gameland...
Rot & Ruin is the first novel in a series of four following Benny, Tom, and their friends Nix, Chong, and Lilah. The later books delve more into what's out there in the world and what has become of human societies since the collapse. The glimpse of post-society humanity is pretty familiar if you enjoy post apocalyptic media: the groups and people would be just at home in Fallout or Mad Max as they are in these novels. That is not to say they are boring and or poorly detailed. The post zombie apocalypse world is very interesting beyond the endless arms of the ravenous undead.
Some might find the YA label on the book off-putting. Rest assured that even if there wasn't a YA category to put this in, Rot & Ruin would still be a damned good zombie novel. Yes, the characters are teenagers who have some insecurities, but no more than adults facing down the undead in horror novels aimed for older readers. There are still fights with the undead using katanas, bokken, kives, sledgehammers, bladed spears, and more. Zombies die (lots of them) and people die too. Oftentimes the living are far scarier than the dead out in the Ruin.
Having read the next two novels in the series, I can say that the quality of the story and writing continue and if anything, get better. The third book may be initially slow due to the grief that it centers around, but even that picks up with the introduction of new villains, perhaps scarier than any before.
If you've wanted to read about a zombie post apocalypse, read these books. If you've wanted to read about sheltered teens learning zombie survival in a wasteland, read these books. And if you're a YA reader who's beginning to want some zombies in your reading, this are the books for you.
The books on Amazon:
Rot & Ruin
Dust & Decay
Flesh & Bone
Fire & Ash
Jonathan Maberry's site
Carnacki is an investigator of hauntings. He is methodical in his techniques to confirm or disprove paranormal activity. He routinely attempts to photograph ghosts, gathers facts on the case, and even uses scientific tricks to confirm the veracity of certain phenomena, such as if doors really opened during activity. He is often called when owners of a home cannot deal with a haunting any longer. This sounds pretty conventional for today, which is why it is impressive that Carnacki, The Ghost Finder was published over a century ago in 1913.
Written by William Hope Hodgson as short stories for magazines between 1910 and 1920, Carnacki, The Ghost Finder collects six cases of the ghost hunter. Each case is written by a friend of Carnacki who recounts the ghost hunter retelling everything that happened through the course of the investigation, giving it an air of armchair reminiscence and a slight nod to Watson's retellings of the Sherlock Holmes adventures.
Carnacki is neither a Christian crusader nor a disbelieving scientist. He is methodical in his investigations, often using hairs or wax to tell if doors have actually opened while an area was locked and setting up unique tools like a camera triggered by a string. Some of his knowledge and ghost classification comes from the mysterious Sigsand Manuscript which he mentions, but Carnacki is hardly an occultist like you might see in Lovecraft or more modern works. Other than drawing circles or pentacles, he has no actual magical ability. He just uses what he has learned for defense and investigation. That is not to say that he is not without his innovations. One of the most intriguing ideas is Carnacki's Electric Pentacle. After noting that electricity appeared to enhance barriers against the paranormal, he merged it with the occult pentacle. Using vacuum tubes, the Electric Pentacle sends electricity continuously in the occult shape and is plugged into a battery within the protected area.
Carnacki himself is an interesting character. He isn't some Lovecraftian scholar, lost in his fear of the unknown, his brain locking up in the darkness. Carnacki is brave, but he is not full of bravado either - he clearly gets scared in the middle of the dark night, fearing things in the unknown and trying to stay immobile in his pentacle. The most dominant part of Carnacki's personality seems to be his can-do attitude. He always has a next thing to try, a new way to continue the investigation. Even when scared, he does not dwell, he merely rests and begins again.
Why haven't you heard of Carnacki before? The name comes up here and there, but mostly in more literary accounts that are usually talking of the history of the horror or supernatural genres. Rarely do you hear him mentioned as a recommendation for reading. William Hope Hodgson died at the age of 40 in World War I and his works fell into obscurity since then. Every decade or so there is a resurgence, and his works capture a few new readers. Though it seems obvious to suggest Hodgson influenced Lovecraft, the latter did not discover Hodgson's works until 1934, late into his career. Carnacki has only been adapted to the screen once, in an episode the 1970s TV series Rivals of Sherlock Holmes where Carnacki was played by Donald Pleasence.
It is impressive that the Carnacki stories are still quite readable for modern readers. Some works of that age come off stilted, slow, or lacking in bite due to all the things we've read in more modern works. But the Carnacki stories are still quite interesting and creepy. While there might be a few words that may be confusing or antiquated, the narrative voice is quite comfortable to read. The biggest drawback is that since this is Carnacki's account to a friend, every paragraph begins with a quotation mark and actual things said appear in nested quotes, which can be confusing at times. But outside of this small annoyance, the stories are still enjoyable to read without them feeling an uphill struggle.
Carnacki has passed into public domain at this point. You can find his stories free as an ebook. This also means that other authors are free to use him in their own works, as they have. Besides cameos in other works as varied as the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Doctor Who novels, you can find the further adventures of Carnacki written by a variety of authors. I can speak only for the original works, but if you have an ebook reader, there's no reason not to check him out, if not for the amazement value of a type of story so commonplace now occurring over a century ago.
Free ebook and for those who prefer a hard copy.