alden bell america book cell cormac mccarthy horror meatskins novel philosophy recommendation review stephen king temple the reapers are the angels the road undead zombies
The Reapers are the Angels - review
"God is a slick god, and he knows things about infinities" - The Reapers are the Angels
Say hello to a zombie novel with heart, depth, philosophy and, of course, horror. The Reapers are the Angels by Alden Bell is a gem of a book that deftly bridges a gap between YA and adult literature, writing horror reminiscent of Stephen King's Cell, but with much more emotional connection.
Temple is a fifteen year old orphan surviving as best as she can in a world full of "meatskins". She see's miracles in the small things, and feels the weight of God's judgement in everything she does. She is a teenager much older than her years, wracked by the guilt of a secret she keeps, and accepts the violence necessary to her survival as a manifestation of her own "evil".
When the meatskins find a way to her safe island haven, Temple knows it is time to move on, and as she treks across America she meets a host of eclectic characters, each suffering their own secrets.
In one of the safe communities Temple arrives in, she wanders across a group of "hunters" playing cards for pills. Here she meets Abraham, a man whose eyes "creep under her clothes". It is after the game that Temple is subjected to the man's violent lust for women, and ends up killing him. This act sparks a cat and mouse subplot when the man's brother, Moses, hunts Temple to exact revenge in her death.
Further a long the road, another subplot is introduced when Temple saves a man carrying his dead grandmother away from a swarm of meatskins. Maury is a simple man and a mute, and although Temple fights to leave him to fend for himself, she ultimately cannot leave him defenseless, and finds herself a travel partner as she resolves to find Maury's family to look after him.
The beauty of this novel lies within the relationships between the characters. The gentleness Temple shows towards Maury is so endearing, so sisterly despite the huge age gap and so patient. The philosophical asides Temple shares with her assassin pursuer, Moses, hit a perfect balance of cold indifference and desperation as she stares the acceptance of imminent death in the face each time.
Even characters that grace the pages of the book for short periods of time are fully realised and delicate. I especially enjoyed reading moments with James Grierson - the tormented ex-soldier, drinking to forget, hateful to the core, but capable of such tenderness and love.
There is a different dynamic to every relationship in the book. I couldn't wait to see who Temple would meet next, what they would need from her, and what they would give in return: emotionally or physically.
The structure of this novel is pretty close to perfect, and draws many similarities to The Road by Cormac McCarthy, without being quite as sparse: characters are introduced individually and intermittently, characters are not complex but carry a weight of complexity in their past, there is no use of quotation marks in conversation, one on one conversations never intersected by distractions... It is well paced, and conversations - partly written in Temple's dialect - are short and meaningful.
The horror (let's not forget, there are zombies about!) is incredibly graphic, I have to admit. It does not shy away nor apologise for what it is. Zombies are given detailed descriptions of decay, and although I may have found myself recoiling from a sentence or two, I have to admit it made a change. A lot of writers take for granted that a zombie is a well-known, well-documented stereotype. You know what one is and you'll have your own impressions of what one should look like. I appreciated the author's insistence that you would imagine HIS version of a zombie and not your own. Some way into the book mutant zombies enter the narrative, and at this point the descriptions were welcomed.
When the book reached it's conclusion I was extremely sad to see it end. It seems I have carved a place in my literary heart for Temple. This is a book I will definitely re-read, and will probably find much more within it when I do. I wholly recommend it to my readers, though please be warned there is graphic violence and strong language throughout. Please let me hear your thoughts if you read this book!
(Note: I managed to get this book for 99p on Kindle, but I think it was a daily deal - worth a look around though!)
Emma is a designer living in Bristol, UK. A self-confessed stationery addict, book lover and TV sci-fi geek, she enjoys sketching zombie-eyed women and finding her next source of inspiration in the pages on the bookshelf.