Fifteen-year-old Temple isn’t thrilled to be wandering the zombie-infested ruins of the American South alone, but being alone is better than the alternative. Temple, who wasn’t even born when the zombies end life as we know it today, would rather not be around people; she’s found that people always lead to trouble. When, forced out of isolation, she’s temporarily taken in by a community of survivors, she quickly discovers how much trouble the living can be. She’s soon on the run from a violent and determined man with vengeance on his mind.
The Reapers Are the Angels, a 2011 Alex Award winner, is a surprisingly beautiful and heart-wrenching read, and very much NOT what you think of when you think zombies. It’s like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road plus the undead and the protagonist of True Grit and minus the extreme hopelessness (ok, technically I haven’t seen True Grit, but Temple’s what I imagine Hailee Stienfeld’s character to be). And that equations = something awesome. Reapers has all the violence and destruction of a McCarthy novel, but Bell/Gaylord balances the horror with just enough hope to keep the reader from feeling totally ruined at the end. Temple is a fantastic character – she’s fierce and brave and has a grim sense of humor, but even in the face of terrible desolation, she has an eye for the world’s small wonders.
Bell’s writing is gorgeous. It’s lyrical without being over-written, and his easy use of dialect is impressive. In addition to McCarthy, he’s clearly been influenced by Southern Gothic writers. Temple’s concern with God and her convictions about the nature of evil, in particular, reminded me of Flannery O’Connor. For example:
“And you could say the world had gone to black damnation, and you could say the Children of Cain are holding sway over the good and righteous, but here’s what Temple knows: She knows that whatever hell the world went to, and whatever evil she’s perpetrated her own self, and whatever series of cursed misfortunes brought her down here to this island to be harbored away from the order of mankind, well, those are the things that put her there that night to stand amid the Daylight Moon and the Miracle of the Fish–which she wouldn’t of got to see otherwise.
See, God is a slick god. He makes it so you don’t miss out on nothing you’re supposed to witness firsthand.”
One of the great things about writing for the Hub is how often the topics of my post lead me to read/watch/view outside my normal preferences. As much as I like to watch zombies on TV, I’m not a big horror reader, so normally I wouldn’t have read The Reapers Are the Angels. I’m interviewing author Joshua Gaylord (Alden Bell is a pseudonym) for the Hub (look for the link soon!), though, so I figured I should probably read the book, and I’m glad I did! Highly recommended to zombie fans and non-zombie fans alike.