Friday, October 7, 2011

Book Review: The Reapers Are the Angels by Alden Bell

My rating: 4.75/5

The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one;
The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels.
As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world.

From Amazon: "Born into a crumbling society plagued by zombies, all 15-year-old Temple knows is to kill or be killed. When she is assaulted at a safe house, she murders her human attacker, Abraham Todd, and runs from his vengeful brother, Moses. Temple soon acquires a traveling partner, a slow mute by the name of Maury, and begrudgingly takes responsibility for his care, remembering a young boy she swore to protect but couldn't save. Fleeing Moses, the "meatskins," and her own battered conscience, Temple still finds moments of simple joy in the brutal world. Bell (a pseudonym for Joshua Gaylord, author of Hummingbirds) has created an exquisitely bleak tale and an unforgettable heroine whose eye for beauty and aching need for redemption somehow bring wonder into a world full of violence and decay"

This is a zombie novel, but it's not your run-of-the-mill gorefest.  (That's not to say it isn't violent and gory and probably everything you'd still expect from a zombie novel, but not senselessly so.)  Instead it stands as one of the most beautiful uses of the English language I've ever read, with a story that's something like Of Mice and Men or Huckleberry Finn, just with a zombie plot.  Temple even uses the pseudonym Sarah Mary Williams around strangers, which is most of the time, and ends up with an adult, Maury, for a traveling partner. 

I wish I'd marked my favorite passages to turn back to, but here are a few examples of the writing nonetheless:

"In the distance there is sometimes the faint glimmer of firelight, dim and implacable. Wilson claims these are mirages, nocturnal illusions that would recede forever if you tried to pursue them. Like the shimmering sylphs of old that led travelers over precipices or into mazy, unending caverns. Not all the magic of the earth is benevolent."

"...God is a slick god, and he knows things about infinities. Infinities are warm places that never end. And they aren't about good and evil, they're just peaceful-like and calm, and they're where all travelers go eventually, and they are round everywhere you look because you can't have any edges in infinities."

"...there were blueprints on the walls, covering all the walls, that blue not quite like any other blue she had ever seen. She tells of how magical they were, those white lines like chalk fibers against that blue, the figures and numbers and arrows like the very nomenclature of man's grandeur, the objects they described like artifacts lost and gone and hinted at in undecipherable etchings for future races smarter than herself to puzzle over. And they were a wonder, those mortal imaginations splayed wide on paper, testaments to vision far beyond her own weary head, testimonials to the faith in the power of human ingenuity to shape something out of nothing..."

Temple herself is a wonderful character, a forced-to-grow-up-too-quickly teenager with an easy, unassuming confidence that shows she can take care of herself and do what needs to be done without being the least bit cocky.  But she's also pained by the demons and memories of everything that's happened to her, and though she never seems to do anything out of malice, the only thing she ever questions is whether or not her soul is redemptible after surviving so many now-commonplace horrors... the blame for which she often places on herself, but without an ounce of self-pity.

I don't want to quite give it 5, only because I don't like the cliche of the "hill people" becoming the worst, inbred monsters of all; but other than that, I can't think of a single complaint, and it still gets the honor of being one of the best books that I've read this year.