Fiction Reviews

The Reapers are the Angels

(2010) Alden Bell, Tor (UK), £16.99, hrdbk, 304pp, ISBN 978-0-230-74864-4

This book follows the fortunes of Temple, a teenage girl, who finds herself alone and living on the coast of America in an abandoned lighthouse, miles from any signs of civilisation and with the threat of zombies, otherwise known as meatskins, ever present. The story is set in the very near future where America is overrun with zombies, and the humans that remain are fighting for survival in groups whilst living their day-to-day lives whichever way and style they are able to.

Temple is haunted by the memories of a young boy called Malcolm and a man who looked after them, known as Uncle Jackson and who taught her how to survive. Forced to move on from the lighthouse, Temple goes in search of other survivors and comes across many different types of groups along the way, each with their own approach to dealing with the world they find themselves in. One encounter leads to her finding herself with a sworn enemy intent on tracking her down and killing her. On another, she encounters a mentally handicapped man by the name of Maury and realises that helping him find his family in Texas may just make up for things she has done in the past of which she is not proud.

The format of this book is a little unusual in that the author has not made use of speech marks, instead allowing the tale to be read in the style of a story being told, with the hint of an American accent in the wording and this works and lends itself well to the environment in which the story it is set: one of a post-apocalyptic world where modern facilities are still just about functioning and life before the infestation of zombies is still present in people’s minds. All this is illustrated in a matter-of-fact, gritty manner. Observations regarding smell and mannerisms enable the reader to engage with the author's world.

There have been a glut of zombie novels recently, but the way the survivors are portrayed in The Reapers are the Angels sets it apart from a standard zombie yarn in that not only does Temple have to defend herself against the zombies, she also finds herself having to defend herself against the motives of the survivors she encounters who are intent on using her for their own ends. The people Temple meets along the way provide an interest and illustrate that survival can take many forms – from denial to community living and to a more militaristic outlook. Temple’s travels across America keep the story fresh and the way her past unfolds enables the plot to remain consistent despite changes of environment, backgrounds and introduction of characters.

The Reapers are the Angels is a proverbially hard-to-put-down novel as it draws the reader in with a good balance of gentle pace as well as scenes of tension and action. Temple herself is an interesting character whose backstory slowly unfolds throughout the book, revealing why she feels the need to atone for past actions and who also finds herself in situations where she has to use her instinct to survive. She also wants to experience what other teenagers of her age would – including dressing up, going on dates and sexual encounters. This is a book with a diverse subject matter where the author’s style of writing keeps the story moving along, lending itself to the country it is set in. There is suspense, action... and a truly stunning ending.

Sue Griffiths

See also Jonathan's' taken on The Reapers are the Angels.

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