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Review: The Reapers are the Angels by Alden Bell

reapers are the angels by alden bell Review: The Reapers are the Angels by Alden Bell

You know what I think? she says.

What do you think?

She points through the hole into the dark throat of the diseased landscape.

I think youre more dangerous than whats out there.

Well girl, he says, thats a funny thing you just uttered.

Because I was just not thinkin the same thing about you.

Id not heard anything about Alden Bells'The Reapers are the Angels until it arrived in my letterbox, locked away in a padded bag, protected by mummy-like layers of tape. Its cover, a much darker tint than the one above, suggested that I was dealing with a stormy book, a moody book, and I was not far wrong.

The Reapers and the Angels and I did not become firm friends right away. The book is slow to begin, giving us a painfully slow and somewhat taciturnly panning description of a world lost. However, in the opening pages, Bells voice does come through in a startling, haunting manner, and to be honest it was this that kept me persevering.

Theres no doubt that the novel is massively derivative, and its difficult to read more than a few pages without comparing it to a range of both visual and print texts: Mathesons I am Legend, Walter M Millers A Canticle for Leibowitz, even the recent 28 Days Later film franchise come to mind, as do myriad others.

Temple is a maybe-fifteen-year-old travelling alone in a ravaged, desultory world where meatskins lurch and loll, their dry and scrabbling forms a constant presence. Temple, who has been born into this world, has a quietly pragmatic approach to these shambling monsters who every now and then interrupt her raids on service stations or supermarkets, or that can be found dumbly massing in erstwhile city centres. Unlike the small knots of people she comes across in her travels, those who are trying to recreate the society they once knew by enclosing themselves in safe zones, running schools and kitchens and playing music and games, unlike these, Temple has little nostalgia for this unknown and apparently ersatz past.

Her efforts largely circle around mere survival, and she is constantly on the move as a result. However, as the narrative progresses, and Temple comes into uncomfortable contact with a range of well-meaning individuals who try to take her in, offer her a moment or respite, we realise that she is running from something in her past, and has been, at all costs, avoiding a'penitence'she fears she doesnt deserve. However, her onward march takes on a new urgency when she finds herself hunted by Moses Todd, a man whose behaviour is as oddly conflicting as the combination of his first and second names.

On the run now from this tangible human force, Temple finds herself fighting her confused motivations, particularly when she meets Maury, a mute mentally disabled man whom, as part of a new-found need for salvation, she seeks to return home. A cat-and-mouse game ensues between Moses Todd and Temple, with the two meeting and parting at several points throughout the book. It is a strange relationship, as Todd means surely to kill her, but never does: perhaps because he begins to see Temple as that essential element in any horror-filled worldthat representation of human instinct, survival. Similarly, Temples efforts to return Maury to his home, despite knowing in some part of her that this is a pointless effort, offer a curious commentary not only on Temples attempt at redemption, but also with regard to the treatment of the meatskins, to whom the silent, useless Maury is a striking parallel.

The Reapers are the Angels is a beautifully written book, its prose fat and rich in the Southern Gothic style. However, the plot as a whole felt almost didactic to me, moving just because, or for philosophical reasons rather than any narrative essential, and it was difficult to stave off the constant comparisons with other literature that I found myself making. In addition, I struggled at times with the characterisationTemple, an unschooled girl, often speaks precociously and in a strongly poetic manner that seems at odds with her experienceand the other characters seem to act almost in a vacuum. Perhaps this is meant to exemplify how ones actions and motivations are twisted and affected in a new and painful environment, but it never really rings true.

All in all, this is a curious and promising debut that will likely attract readers from both the speculative fiction and the more mainstream or literary audiences.

With special thanks to Tor UK for the review copy.

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