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Review: The Reapers are the Angels

May 27, 2013

The Reapers are the Angels book coverThis isn’t a book about zombies.  That is made clear right from the start of The Reapers are the Angels, a novel by Alden Bell.

“God is a slick god. Temple knows. She knows because of all the crackerjack miracles still to be seen on this ruined globe.”

We are in metaphysical territory right from the start, and in this place, it can be hard to find your bearings. I found mine early on, with the easy references to Faulkner and his whole host of Southern Gothic pals. You’ll find plenty of McCarthy here too, most notably The Road. But The Reapers are the Angels doesn’t rely on those references and stands up on its own two (rotting, gut-trailing) legs. The tropes are all there: the Benjy Compson-esque manchild; the graceful, pathetic decline of the Old South personified as a crumbling family manor; the misbegotten quest for vengeance; inbred hillbillies. Oh, and then there’s a little part about love of  The Land.

Our badass Gurkha-knife wielding heroine is Temple, a fifteen year old valkyrie with a hint of Katniss Everdeen and the speech of a gunslinging philosopher from Yoknapatawpha County. Score 1 for the pantheon of strong, smart, self-reliant female leads. If you’re like me, that should be enough to send you running to your local library. Born after the zombie plague had already transformed America into a crumbing wasteland, Temple has known no other world. Survival is intrinsic to her, but what’s special about Temple is that she longs to do more than just survive — she longs to live.

Temple travels from settlement to settlement, holding tight to a firm sense of wonder as she wanders the American ruin. When an inconvenient encounter with a certified creep makes a murderer of our heroine, she is forced to go on the run from the creep’s vengeful, code-abiding brother. Enter Moses. Our…antagonist?

The relationship that develops between Moses and Temple is one of the more intriguing facets of The Reapers are the Angels. Almost at once, each recognizes the other as dangerous, and a mutual respect is born. Two acts of violence, one committed against Temple and one committed by Temple, bind them together and form the central plot.

I was intrigued by Temple’s empathetic understanding of the man with the single-minded task to kill her. I was suspicious of Moses as an antagonist and wary of his Old Testament-begotten morality. The more I read, the more I saw that Moses and Temple are two sides of the same coin. Two hardened warrior-wanderers with no cause but the call of The Land and the promise of miracles in the wild.

The zombies are an afterthought.

Rating: 4 stars

Quote:

Truth be told, the inward gaze is something she’s not too fond of. But there are secrets that lurk in the mind, and she doesn’t want any of them sneaking up on her. Sometimes it pays to take a deep look inside even if you get queasy gazing into those dark corners.

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