I have no idea how this book ended up on our bookshelf. All I know is, looking for something to read, I spotted this in the spare room of my parent’s house. Intrigued, I grabbed it and ended up reading it almost every night before bed until I had finished it. And the only reason I ever put it down was the need to actually sleep.
The Reapers Are The Angels tells the story of Temple, a fifteen year old girl who has only ever known postapocalyptic America. Temple has, in her own eyes, done some horrible things in her life – but then again, there are almost no characters in the book who haven’t. In Russell T. Davies’ words, the novel is set in an ‘epic wasteland’. Temple’s character is one the reader can immediately identify with. Her age shines through the book, and is captured perfectly in the way it is contrasted with the life she has led and the things she must do. Most zombie/apocalypse tales I’ve seen/read/heard are set immediately in the aftermath of whatever has caused the destruction of the world, usually dealing with a handful of survivors who may or may not be the last people on Earth.
This book does it differently. Temple is for the most part alone, but she is not the only survivor. She comes across a variety of communities, groups and individuals, trying to make it in this world. And there are, of course, the slugs, in the background of almost every scene but rarely providing a real threat. Temple only kills these zombies when she has to, and for the most part just accepts them as one of God’s creatures. Most of the threats she faces comes, instead, by humans, and early on her antagonist is presented as Moses Todd – a brilliant, well written character who understands Temple more than anyone else in the novel. But he is set against her, a character who tracks her because he has to kill her.
The characters are vivid and all too real; every so often, Temple will pass families heading in the opposite direction. Bell brilliantly brings them to life in just a few short lines, showing not just hunters and killers, but ordinary people simply looking for somewhere safe.
I fell in love with the style of the book. There are no speech marks around dialogue; instead, it blends in with the rest of the prose. Originally I thought this would end up confusing, but Bell’s dialogue stands out even more because of it. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen dialogue as well written – it’s rare when dialogue does exactly what it is supposed to, and I think it’s difficult to write dialogue that works so well to bring characters to life. But in this book, each spoken line serves to tell you more about the character speaking, and it’s consistent throughout, especially with Temple’s lack of education. She knows so little, yet is much more knowledgeable about this world than many others. And all of that is discovered through what she says and, more importantly, how she says it.
I’ve seen and heard comments about how apocalypse tales never deal with the aftermath, of what happens when the zombies are gone or under control, of a world where people are trying to rebuild or live. Well, The Reapers Are Angels does show that. It’s never made clear when the slugs arrived, but Temple can’t remember life before them. Many of the characters she encounters do remember life before, and tell her of jet planes and Niagara Falls. Another approach would have been to have Temple full of sadness that she could not see that world – but it’s made clear that this wasteland is Temple’s world, for better or worse. It’s what she has, and what she needs to deal with, and there’s no angst involved. Just a fifteen year old’s determination and grit to just get on with it.
It’s a great book, whether or not you’re a fan of postapocalyptic tales this book is worth reading simply for the characters involved and the style of Bell. One I would without a doubt recommend. What about you? Any good apocalyptic books you’d suggest checking out?