Monday, January 10, 2011

REVIEW: The Reapers Are The Angels by Alden Bell

Hardcover: 302 pages
Publisher: Tor (3 Sep 2010)
ISBN-10: 0230748643
ISBN-13: 978-0230748644
Reviewer: Cara
Copy: Bought online

From the inside cover:
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.

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...

I was initially resistant to reading The Reapers Are The Angels because I don't like zombies. There, I've admitted it; the very mention of the undead is enough to put me off any book or film that mentions them. However, I decided to face my prejudice as this book has been highly praised by many of my peers. Reading reviews by other bloggers indicated that the undead zombies in Alden Bell's novel are an incidental, background feature rather than the main event and so I settled down with a mug of hot chocolate and started to read.

What soon becomes clear is that this is a post-apocalyptic tale centred around Temple, a fifteen-year old girl. She has been born into this world and knows nothing of what came before. Indeed, the events that created this bleak and decaying landscape are not described and, to a certain extent are not relevant either to the story or to Temple's life. We meet her living alone in an abandoned Florida island lighthouse, surviving on what fish she can catch and scavenged plants. When she finds a man washed up on the beach, back broken, jaw missing, yet still squirming and moving in the sand, Temple recognises him as a 'meatskin' or undead and knows her sanctuary is no longer safe. After smashing his head in with a rock, she packs up and leaves for the mainland. This is her life, forever moving on, avoiding the meatskins, also referred to as slugs. Is she heading for some unknown destination or running away from her short past? Within the first two chapters there are many questions about Temple that keep me reading, looking for answers to why a teenage girl is alone in a hostile and dangerous environment.

For the most part Temple is travelling alone across southern America, haunted by a past that is hinted at throughout but only fully revealed towards the end of the book. When she meets Maury, she tries to seek her own redemption by helping him get to his family in Texas. But she is also being pursued by the enigmatic Moses Todd, a man intent on killing her in revenge for something she has done. While both of these characters provide the plot structure, The Reapers Are The Angels is more of an exploration of how humanity survives in a destroyed world, using the character of Temple as the focal point. And this is what irritated me... for an illiterate and uneducated girl, Temple had too much knowledge, too much poetic lyricism. Amidst the stark and desolate world she inhabits she finds beauty in unusual places. She is a philosopher of sorts and this did not work for me. Neither did the fact that she was able to find food and drink in deserted service stations and stores that were fit for consumption - how would this be possible after twenty-odd years?
"She takes the rest of the box [of peanut butter crackers] and a twenty-four pack of coke, some bottles of water, three tubes of Pringles, a few cans of chilli and soup, and some boxes of macaroni and cheese."
There were several similar examples of current society norms throughout the book that jolted me out of the whole post-apocalyptic scenario and undermined the credibility of the book.

It is fair to say I was disappointed in The Reapers Are The Angels. For me, it did not live up to the hype and I found I was making unfavourable comparisons to other, better books such as The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I also did not like the style of writing, where the dialogue was undifferentiated from the descriptive prose and mostly written in a heavy southern accent
"She takes one and puts it in her mouth to show him.
Mmmm. I ain't had bingberries in I don't know how long . That Albert, he may have been a scoundrel all told, but he knew how to raise himself some crops, didn't he? Go on, eat one." 
Overall I felt I was being expected to suspend my disbelief just a bit too far and that Temple was almost superhuman in her ability to do what she had to do to survive. Temple was an intriguing character, however, I did not really engage with her and it was only the fact that I had agreed to review this book that kept me reading to the end. The Reapers Are The Angels has not changed my mind about zombie novels and it is unlikely that I will choose to read another in the near future.

Rating: 5/10

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