Monday, September 13, 2010

Review: The Reapers Are The Angels by Alden Bell ★★★

The Reapers Are the Angels
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I received a review copy of this book from the publisher, and I must say that I was thrilled with the offer because 1) I love zombies, and 2) I love apocalypses and this story has both. It didn't disappoint in either of those regards.

It took me a little while to get into this story, honestly, even though the premise is one that appeals to me so much. The story is told in a 3rd person omniscient narration, but also through Temple's eyes, in a way. Her unique take on life comes through the narration perfectly, and helps us to get to know her, but unfortunately, it was a bit of a distraction to me as well, and made it a little hard for me to really focus on and enjoy the story.

I grew up in the south, and I've been to many of the areas where this story took place: Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee, Texas - but I've never heard the type of language that Temple used in any of these places. She is illiterate and uncouth and almost feral, and spends almost all of her time alone, or at least without anyone to converse with, so it isn't hard to imagine that her language wouldn't be pristine. It feels as if it's her own vernacular bastardization, taking words and morphing them into something that she likes the sound of. But, then other characters also use the same type of nonexistent "upgrade" words she does, like "marvelment" rather than just "marvel" and I have to wonder at the author's choice in writing it this way, because for Temple to use these words makes sense, but for other characters to do so doesn't, really. Some of the sentences just seemed to be awkwardly phrased and strange sounding to me, and left me feeling that the writing was trying hard to be something that it's not.

That's not to say that the writing was bad, because it wasn't. There were many beautiful sections that I found myself re-reading to absorb again, and I enjoyed many of the descriptions and the observations communicated through Temple, and sometimes through Moses, who seemed to be both her opposite and her equal.

I am not sure if I liked Temple, honestly. What she lacks in social grace she more than makes up for in ferocity, but I was a little disappointed in her harshness and brutality in situations that I don't think called for such methods. But then again, I don't live in that world, so those kind of coping mechanisms are probably necessary. I just thought it was a little out of character for someone who believes in the beauty and wonder the world can hold, as Temple does. It's like she's got two diametrically opposed parts of herself contained in one shell. I wasn't really sure what to make of her, but I will say that by the end I was rooting for her.

There was a bit more religion than I'd have really expected in this story. There were many, many references to God and angels and miracles and the like, mainly from Temple's interpretation, but nothing very definitive, and nothing that removed the mystery of the world or proved a deity's existence or hand in anything. Mainly it was Temple's own personal religious beliefs coming through in her observations of the world, and her own morality. I was just surprised by this, as she isn't the type that I would usually think of as being religious. In fact, I would have expected her to be the type to shun religion, since a world full of zombies is hardly a miraculous occurrence. But then miracles are open to interpretation, as is everything else in life.

Moving on to the zombie aspect of the story, nothing was explained in this regard either. The world has been overrun by the undead for 25 years, and this world is all that Temple has ever known. I like the way that the zombies were portrayed here. A bit different from the usual zombies as instinctual, eternally hungry, brainless death-machines. These zombies tended to keep a bit of their human characteristics in death. Not love or honor or anything, but mainly habit, or routines that have been ingrained in their human lives for so long that they continue them, to a certain extent, in death. For instance, returning back to their homes or places of work, holding hands, trying to ride carnival rides, etc. These were inclined to adapt - when their preferred food was not available, they would feed on animals or even each other, culling the weak. And then there was the Family... but you'll need to experience them for yourself. I won't ruin it.

The main difference that I noted, and this could just be me reading into this, was that it seemed that ANY dead person could return as a zombie, bitten or not, as long as their brain was intact. Temple made it a point to destroy the brain of every human that she had to kill, to ensure that they would not come back. This makes me think that perhaps it was a kind of airborne virus or something that caused the undead outbreak, rather than a supernatural cause.

There was quite a bit of gore and vivid descriptions of the undead, as well as the horror that they inflict, and that which was inflicted on them. This one isn't for the weak of stomach, but it is a short and enjoyable book on the whole for someone who is looking for something a bit different from the norm when it comes to zombie fare.

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