4,5 / 5
The Reapers Are The Angels, by Alden Bell, is a book about Temple, a young girl who is forced to travel through an post-apocalyptic, de-civilized and zombified America. As usual, I will avoid going into too much detail describing what this book is about, you can read that up there ^. Instead, I will go straight into my review. Quick summary?: This is an amazing book, with an unusual writing style, exceptional setting and a unique protagonist!Format:
In my e-book version, the book had 190 pages. It contained 3 parts divided in 16 chapters of relatively medium length (~20 pages). The narration is in 3rd person perspective and almost entirely in the present tense apart from some memories.Characters:
The main character in this novel is of course Temple (or Sarah Mary Williams). She is a young girl living alone in a hostile environment. She is fierce, a true warrior and survival is her forte.
“Amid the hot stench of fresh offal, she rises to her feet like the dreadful ghost of a fallen battlefield soldier, her hands tacky with the thick pulpy dregs of death splayed wide.“
She is a real pragmatist but at the same time she’s looking for beauty wherever it can be found, she likes to dream and wonder and hope; after all she’s still a kid. We always know what Temple thinks and feels and we quickly get attached to a seemingly cold and thorny character.
There are many recurring secondary characters, and Bell has them really fleshed out well. We come to understand them, like them and accept them as part of Temple’s social environment, which admittedly is a very scarce one.
Needless to say Bell’s characterization is superb and spotless. The whole novel depends and builds on it and it is part of the reason why this book provokes such an intense feeling throughout.World building:
This novel’s other major strong point is Bell’s world building, or rather his depiction of a post-apocalyptic America, plagued with “zombies” or something of the like. You see, we learn that slugs (the novel’s “zombies”) have overrun the states and are everywhere from the first pages. But these are not your ordinary scary threatening zombies. On the contrary, they are hardly “living”, moving slowly and relatively harmless in most cases. Still, they are the reason that the typical western civilization has completely collapsed and there’s hardly any form of society anywhere. The setting is desolate, empty and harsh but there are constantly overtones of nostalgia and beauty in the descriptions of each corner and sight.
Plot, story & pacing:
“A country of foolishness and wonderment and capital and perversity. Feeling like God at supper in the sky, horizons pink and blue, a frontier blasted through with breath and industry, like God himself could suffocate on the beauty of the place, could curl up and die at beholdin his own creation, all the razor reds of the West and the broke-down South always on a lean, elegantlike, the coyote howl and the cannibal kudzu and the dusty windows that ain’t seen a rag of cleaning since.”
The plot is the novel’s first hurdle, demanding of the reader to keep reading at its absence. There’s not really a grand mystery here, neither an ultimate goal. The story is more like a road-trip, an adventure that might or might not have an end or a purpose. But this is not the main strength of the book and was probably never intended to be as that spotlight is shared already by characters and setting. Still though, after a while we want to know things such as who is Maury and where does his story lead? What’s the deal with Moses? And of course, what’s going to happen to such a restless spirit if and when she deals with the problems she has consciously adopted for her own?
“It just comes from thinkin too much. That’s why you can’t slow down for long. You gotta keep your brain tired out so it don’t start searching for things to dwell on.”
As for the pacing, truth be told, the book starts slow, bluntly requiring of the reader to just keep on turning pages purely on blind faith, and honestly, maybe it takes up to the half-point until I was attached to the characters so much that I got hooked up and couldn’t stop reading. But maybe that’s too much of a request or too late, and I won’t blame people for dropping this one before they realize they have a true gem in their hands.
As a sidenote, I’m pretty sure there’s a lot of allegory and symbolism in this story... but unfortunately it was lost on me. I know it’s there, I can feel it but I can’t connect the dots and make the connection. Regardless of this, I still enjoyed the book immensely and think that it didn’t subtract from my satisfaction.Writing:
Bell’s writing was the first thing that really stuck out to me. Initially I found it jarring and needed quite some time to get used to it. Also the use of present tense is something that I haven’t been used to and felt strange at the beginning. It didn’t take long however for me to change my opinion and accept it as part of what gives this book such a strong atmosphere and tone. In a way, it’s blunt, rough and direct, kinda like the world depicted therein and the protagonist’s personality. But while the language may intentionally be imperfect, the imagery conveyed by it is beautiful, showcasing Bell’s imagination and perspective. Make no mistake, this is a dark and cruel novel full of griminess which Bell often shoves in your face.
“And when it was finished, her clothes soaked through in blood and bile and crusted with graying tissue, she wiped from her face the gore she had ripped from the bodies of the dead—the issue of her own feral cannibalism—and only then was she able to open her eyes full to the stinging, punishing orange light of the failing day.”
But it is often in the contrast and antithesis of the elements presented that one can understand where the beauty is and feel the emotions that Bell intended.
“See, God is a slick god. He makes it so you don’t miss out on nothing you’re supposed to witness firsthand.”
In conclusion, this is a book that surprised me in ways I was not expecting. With such an amazing setting, so attachable characters and unique language and writing style, I can recommend this novel to anybody who would like to read something different and captivating. This was one of those books that made me feel sad when I realized I was nearing its ending because I wanted more! Alden Bell is an author who now has my full attention and I will be looking forward to reading more of his works in the future. 4,5 / 5