Wednesday, September 01, 2010
Seeing the beauty of a rough world is a rare gift at the best of times, and it's especially tough when faced with death and decay. But Temple, the heroine of Alden Bell's fantastic new book The Reapers Are the Angels, finds wonder and strange blessings in a time when others are struggling to just go on.
It has been twenty-odd years since the world changed forever and the dead started coming back and feeding on the living and fifteen-year-old Temple has never known another world. Temple has a wandering soul and a toughness of spirit that is finely matched to her deadly fighting skills. Drifting from human enclaves in big cities to remote island paradises, Temple doesn't just fight to stay alive, she greets each day determined to see God's blessings however they present themselves. But God, as she says, is a slick God and His grace doesn't come easy when the dangers a young woman faces aren't just of the undead kind.
As dangerous as the undead are, the living pose their own hazards as Temple knows only too well. The few communities that still stand have their own temptations and Temple, despite her solitary inclinations, often seeks the brief contact that keeps her in touch with humanity. But a deadly confrontation sets Temple at odds against a man who, while a kindred spirit, will follow her to the ends of the earth to settle a debt for a dead brother.
"The Reapers Are the Angels" is a book that defies expectations in a good way. It's a book set in a dystopian future in which zombies--meatskins and slugs to Temple-- devastate the modern world, but it also delivers one of the finest heroines I've ever had the pleasure to meet. It's a story that offers finely-tuned suspense balanced with a terrific philosophical sensibility. It is, without a doubt, the best book I've read this year so far.
Zombie books are all the rage right now and it would be easy to overlook an unassuming book of only 225 pages, but this one deserves to be noticed. I've enjoyed zombie-themed books over the last couple of years (and raved about "Boneshaker" by Cherie Priest) but this one stands in a class all by itself. It's stylistically unique, reminding me of the quiet intensity of a movie like No Country For Old Men, and there are moments that take me back to the feeling I had when watching that film and appreciating how a well crafted scene can deliver a potent, but understated power.
Bell is a clever writer too. Temple often muses about the character of God as she struggles with the conflicting emotions that bubble up due to her drive to survive and her need to appreciate the simple gift of living. But Bell doesn't demand that we believe in God. There's no proselytizing. It's Temple's belief that matters as she tries to reconcile a guilty conscience and a need to interact with society as she invariably causes disruption as she passes through. Somehow Bell even works in the violent, often strange, moments you would expect from zombie-themed fiction seamlessly with it's reflective nature. It's just masterfully done.
"The Reapers Are the Angels" is a such a well written book that if you don't find yourself reading it and wondering whether you appreciate your own life enough, then you just don't have a soul. I'd give this book a rare (for me) but well deserved 5/5 stars.