The Reapers are the Angels
by Alden Bell
Review by Liz de Jager
Tor Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780230748644
Date: 03 September 2010 List Price £16.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK /
A much heralded lead title, from Tor UK. The Reapers are the Angels is a literary zombie novel - and I bet you never thought there could be such a thing! Alden Bell's novel is highly anticipated and even months prior to publication was receiving rave reviews. Check out what our own Liz De Jager thought elsewhere in this issue.
" God is a slick god. Temple knows. She knows because of all the crackerjack miracles still to be seen on this ruined globe...
Older than her years and completely alone, Temple is just trying to live one day at a time in a post-apocalyptic world, where the undead roam endlessly, and the remnant of mankind who have survived, at times, seem to retain little humanity themselves. This is the world she was born into. Temple has known nothing else. Her journey takes her to far-flung places, to people struggling to maintain some semblance of civilization – and to those who have created a new world order for themselves.
When she comes across the helpless Maury, she attempts to set one thing right, if she can just get him back to his family in Texas then maybe it will bring redemption for some of the terrible things she's done in her past. Because Temple has had to fight to survive, has done things that she's not proud of and, along the road, she's made enemies.
Now one vengeful man is determined that, in a world gone mad, killing her is the one thing that makes sense..."
Alden Bell's The Reapers are the Angels is set twenty five years after a zombie (referred to here as 'meatskins') uprising. In a world where humanity has lost much of its hold on society, we follow our main character, Temple, on a road trip filled with danger, humour, and discovery. Oh, and zombies.
When we first meet Temple she is living a quiet life in a lighthouse and she can almost believe that everything is just fine. But one morning she walks down the beach and spots a mangled meatskin on the beach with half its face gone. Its presence decides her: it's time to move on, go see the rest of the world. If one meatskin can brave the coral around her small island, others can too.
She floats her way to the mainland, with her kukri knife (she calls it her ghurka knife) strapped to her back and some supplies. The whole opening sequence of the novel has a dreamlike quality where the writing is both slightly surreal and magical, yet if you look closely enough, you can see the harsh reality of Temple's world poking through.
Our heroine squares her shoulders and sets off on her adventure - a girl in a wilderness, where packs of zombies roam free and where humans are the exception to the rule. The story is actually a simple one, lone girl meets up with a group of survivors and is taken in. During her stay, one of the survivors tries forcing her to have sex, she clobbers him and kills him. Another survivor helps her escape and the would-be rapist's brother swears revenge. Temple runs for her life, knowing full well that Moses, her pursuer, will stop at nothing to find her and kill her. What frightens her more than anything is that during the brief conversation they shared before the incident, she felt a kinship with Moses. He, among all of those she has met, understands the darkness she has within her. So as she runs, she's internalising all these concerns as well as carrying a lot of guilt about dark misdeeds from the past.
Although only fifteen, Temple has lived a rough and solitary life and she has learned to fend adequately for herself. She has no qualms killing the zombies. She is realistic and a very strong positive heroine, even if sometimes she feels like a foreign creature to the reader, being a child of her times. The author works hard to show the lengths people will go to do what they need to survive.
What I particularly liked about Bell's storytelling is that although some sections were particularly dark and grim, there were also moments of human companionship and the chance for characters and readers to just sit back and appreciate the random little miracles - like the glowing fish in the opening sequence of the book or the stars or the beauty of the desolate landscape. The author imbues Reapers with this sense of positive expectancy and although you know bad things happen to good (and bad) people, somehow we can still have hope that things may turn out differently.
The Reapers are the Angels is narrated in present tense with a sense of immediacy that lends itself well to this type of novel. I initially struggled with Temple's colloquial speech but the whole package is well thought out, the characters and setting all combining to create a tremendous impact on the reader.