Book Review: The Reapers are the Angels by Alden Bell

Third book review in a week, I guess I am back on the wagon! This is a title written under a pseudonym (Alden Bell) by author Joshua Gaylord. I must admit I had never read any of his work before so that name didn’t mean anything to me. There were a few good reviews and it was recommended in SFX when I still subscribed to it.

The world is overrun with zombies. Like many such books, this is a post-apocalyptic world in which humanity has lost. It also means that we will occasionally come across a few stragglers on the route. The protagonist is a 15-year-old girl named Temple. She is all alone now, though she references her brother and an old man who took care of her when she was younger, it’s quite obvious that tragedy struck at some point (we do find out later on). She starts the book on a small island upon which a zombie washes up and she reluctantly returns to the mainland.

There’s also a few things here that may not be suitable for all audiences. Near the beginning, she is almost raped. A bit later on she seduces a man ten years her senior. Well, I say seduced, but there’s no eroticism there – it’s short and clumsy and she basically just wanted to fuck someone who wasn’t a danger to her in the very dangerous world she lives in. You feel her urgency in fulfilling a primal need, yet it may make you uncomfortable because three times he tells her “no”, but she proceeds anyway. He could have fought her off, true, but at this point he knows she has killed people. He later apologises to her for his actions. From one perspective, after fighting off a rapist, she forces a man to have sex with her.

This is written in a very unconventional style. There is no dialogue; instead, the writer tells us what is said as though the protagonist is recounting events much later. This can be distracting, but you get used to it. Also problematic are the number of grammatical errors. There are a few “should of, would of, could of” which is cringing in itself, but you get the distinct impression that Bell has done it deliberately to blend in with the raw and bleak writing style to accompany the raw and bleak story (it is in places, very dark for a Young Adult book). Why did his editor not correct them or point out that such deliberate errors are a bad idea? It’s not good form; you can write in a bleak and cold way and show the protagonist’s lack of sophistication without awful linguistics.

I’m also surprised to learn that this is set some 25 years after the apocalypse yet in the communities, many of the trappings of modern life still exist. While it is reasonable to assume that the sheltered communities will have electricity, it is a lot less believable that they are producing Coca-Cola and chocolate. Where are the ingredients coming from, and even if they could still get hold of them, wouldn’t they be best put to foodstuffs that are necessary?

Yet despite these flaws, the book is gripping. Temple is a cold yet intriguing character. She has the weight of the world on her shoulders because of what she lost at such a young age, and has become dispassionate – such a great change from the fearless and empowering 15-year-old heroines who revel in saving the world that has become a trope of this genre. You want her to survive simply because she is human and not superhuman because she has fears and a survival instinct that sometimes blurs the lines of ethics.

If it wasn’t such a page turner, I would have rated this much lower. As it is, it gets a 4/5

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