The Reapers are the Angels

The Reapers are the Angels is a beautifully written zombie apocalypse novel by Alden Bell.

The Reapers are the Angels

Zombies and girls with big knives.

The Reapers are the Angels tells the story of Temple, a sixteen year old girl trying to get by in the ruined landscape of a post-zombie-apocalypse southern US. The book takes her on a journey through some gritty places, but Temple is also taking a more introspective trip as she travels, as she searches for a way to make the world right with herself.

The book is beautifully written throughout (despite a few instance of overzealous adverb usage). and I found myself re-reading certain passages. Alden has a way with words. The writing style and theme of the book reminded me of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road,  a comparison I’m guessing Mr. Bell has heard quite a bit. This is his second book, and if the following short sample is anything to go by, we’ll be hearing a lot more of Mr. Bell in the future.

And you could say the world has gone to black damnation, and you could say the children of Cain are holding sway over the good and the righteous—but here’s what Temple knows: she knows that whatever hell the world went to, and whatever evil she’s perpetrated her own self, and whatever series of cursed misfortunes brought her down here to this island to be harbored away from the order of mankind, well, all those things are what put her there that night to stand amid the Daylight Moon and the Miracle of the Fish—which she wouldn’t of got to see otherwise.

This book has often been compared to Justin Cronin’s The Passage, and rightly so. However, The Reapers are the Angels is superior in two important ways; it is better paced and easier to follow. Where The Passage has real problems in the middle of the book, The Reapers really gets going around the middle, after what I thought was a fine pace. Where The Passage had me turning back to remind myself who was whom, The Reapers has fewer and more vivid and memorable characters. Instead of thinking of Cronin’s book, I was reminded more of McCarthy’s The Road, another book that The Reapers has been compared to.

There is a lot of violence in the book, much of it described in detail. It also has elements of horror, some explicit some subdued and emotional.  However, most of the ink is spent describing the way Temple sees the world, and how she reacts to it. She was born after the events that caused the outbreak of zombies and so her worldview differs greatly from the reader’s, but not in a way that detracts from our engagement. Her reasons for staying alive differ from those of the people she encounters that were alive before the outbreak.

Since star ratings are really all people look for in reviews these days, here are mine: The Reapers are the Angels is a solid four star book. It reads well and is gritty and exciting and has an ending that kicks the reader in the groin. The only problem I have with the book is that Temple somehow doesn’t really manage to earn my sympathy so some of the more emotional passages didn’t have the impact I suspect the author was hoping for.

It was very well received on publications and won the ALA Alex Award, and was nominated for the 2010 Philip K. Dick Award and the 2010 Shirley Jackson Award. So, if you are looking for well-written kick-ass zombie fiction, look no further.

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