by Alden Bell, fantasy (2010)
Tor, £7.99, ISBN 978-0-330-51896-3
The whole dystopian young adult zombie thing feels played out after a while, but sometimes something comes along that has me thinking that, perhaps, there is one or two more good stories to be forced out of that particular dead horse. Alden Bell's The Reapers Are The Angels is that something of late.
The story is actually pretty familiar. Set in a zombie-infested future, dwindling colonies of humans are trying to survive, and, predictably, they are often the bigger menaces compared to the shambling brain-seeking zombies. Right into this plateau of clichés is the girl known as Temple, a 15-year old who has survived all this while through cunning, pragmatism, and, naturally, luck. She feels guilt over the things she has to do to survive, however, and this guilt has developed into a form self-loathing - she is convinced that she is evil. At the same time, she has a child-like ability to appreciate what little beauty left in this world.
Things get interesting when she stumbles upon a simple and mute person named Maury, who comes with a message asking that he should be delivered to an address somewhere across the country. Temple isn't keen on doing this, but Maury reminds her of that one time when she failed another person in her past, and she decides that delivering Maury to his family would be her way of atoning for her past sins. Meanwhile, she kills a man who tried to rape her, and the man's brother would track her and Maury down, and he won't stop until he's avenged his dead brother.
While there isn't anything groundbreaking here, just variations of something old and familiar, this story is a heartwrenching and emotionally draining read. A big part of this is due to Temple. She thinks and feels like a 15-year old who has been forced to grow so much older beyond her years, yet she still retains a child-like way of looking at things, sometimes, and this makes her a fascinating paradox. I like her. The author makes Temple feel like a real person, and it is this believability that makes it so easy for me to invest emotionally into her story.
The narrative is simple, yet it manages to be both elegant and brutal at the same time, perfectly encapsulating the tone and feel of this story. The author predictably brings up zombie staple messages like how humans are so mean and nasty to one another when their backs are against the wall, but the way he does it makes these staple and even formulaic elements feel like an organic and integral part of the story - that part that rips my heart out and stomps on it until it bloody hurts and that is so awesome indeed.
I do have to warn you, the climatic moment towards the end can cut really deep. I personally saw it coming a while back, but when it does come, I feel as if my heart has stopped for a second there. I have to read that part again just to be sure. And even now, thinking about that moment makes me feel a little ache in my heart. This story really gets me - it trips me up emotionally, and that's a very good thing.
The Reapers Are The Angels doesn't offer anything new or profound when it comes to zombie-infested dystopian stories, but that's alright. Reading this kills me in ways that feel so good. Like Temple would say, this is slick. This is awesome.
This book at Amazon.com
This book at Amazon UK
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