(2010) Alden Bell, Tor, £7.99, pbk, 294pp, ISBN 978-0-330-51896-3
This is the 2011 mass-market UK edition of US author, Alden Bell's, 2010 novel that has in the year since its initial publication has attracted affair bit of favourable critical attention. Indeed SF2 Concatenation cited it as one of the best speculative fiction books of 2010. So I was quite keen to learn what all the fuss was about. Temple is a 15 year-old girl making her way in life in the near-future, post-apocalyptic zombie world of the USA. To her, having grown up in this world, her life is normal; she takes things in an almost matter-of-fact way. But, make no mistake, being a 15 year-old girl does not man that she is a soft touch. She has had to survive and survive she has coping quite well both as a loner as well as when she encounters groups of other survivors. Of course, not all of the other survivors have a moral compass that has her interest at heart. So when she encounters a group belonging to a commune she warily goes along. The commune is friendly enough apart from one man who carnally lusts after Temple. Temple is having none of it and so resists but (inadvertently) ends up killing the man. She therefore has to leave the commune in a hurry, but the man's brother, Moses Todd, swears revenge and begins to track her.
Temple meanwhile comes across a mute young man, Maury, who carries a note saying he has relatives out west and Temple makes it her mission to get Maury to his kin. Meanwhile Moses Todd continues to track her and the walking dead proved an ever-present threat.
We do not get to learn how this zombie plague started, though clearly it began not long back when Temple was a little girl as some of the characters we encounter can remember life before the undead rose. The zombies themselves are of the standard Romero or The Walking Dead ilk.
The Reapers are the Angels is literally a proverbial page-turner and I devoured this book in one sitting. In part this is due to the story, which not only consists of Temple's odyssey across the US, but also flashbacks that reveal a more about who she is and how she came to be by herself and why she feels an obligation to her new companion Maury.
The easy-to-read writing style is both thoughtful and literate that lends the reader ease of suspension of disbelief in the fantastical setting underpinning the novel, hence lends credibility for Temple and her story. This writing style no doubt is due to the author having a degree in English and a minor in Creative Writing as well as being someone earns a living as an English schoolteacher. The writing style itself has its peculiarities in that there are no speech quotation marks: I wondered whether this was meant to reflect Temple being illiterate? Furthermore, words like the 'Moon' and 'Sun' (proper nouns referring to our Earth's as opposed to any old 'moon' or 'sun') are relegated to being common nouns (lower case). Maybe this is the 'Creative Writing' dimension to the author's training? Notwithstanding the latter (an all too common error among some publishers' copy editors), the former absence of speech marks works quite well. This is despite the story's perspective being very much largely told from Temple's viewpoint, so you would have thought that without speech marks there would be confusion as to when we were being told something that was actually said or alternatively her thoughts: not a bit of it, the style by and large works! Having said that, there are just a couple of occasions where the reader perspective shifts and only one of these is a little disconcerting as clearly it was another person's flashback (to the time the zombie plague was beginning) and not Temple's view. But this really is a very minor quibble as, as said, the narrative's presentation really works.
As for the story itself, it begins progressing sedately in a by-the-numbers way, introducing the reader to the fairly standard post-apocalyptic, zombie set-up. So folks, you get to know where you are. Then two thirds the way through we have a brief change of gear and enter new genre territory (not too far removed from The Hills Have Eyes country), before a return to what passes for normality on this post-apocalyptic world, prior to a shocker of an ending. Sterling stuff all.
The past few years has seen a glut of zombie novels (and films). So much so that seasoned genre readers might well ask if there was something behind this surfeit within our current social psyche? (I think there is, but this is not the place to go into it.) So, for aficionados of the zombie sub-genre, there is no shortage of reading matter. However Alden Bell's The Reapers are the Angels is a decided cut above the rest and for those for whom zombie horror reading is not part of their diet but want a sampler then this novel could be just the ticket. Recommended.
See also Sue's taken on The Reapers are the Angels.
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