A Free Mind
Lent and the Zombie Apocalypse
Temple is a 15-year-old girl born ten years after the zombie apocalypse. No attempt is made to understand or solve the zombie problem. No government has been formed from the survivors, who set up such systems as seem right to them, individually.
Chaos rules. Temple has never known a world where zombies were not part of the landscape, and this gives us a unique perspective in an apocalyptic novel; in this world, zombies are a danger but not a shock.
Temple is a fearless drifter; she moves from place to place to see wonders, or to carry out those tasks she feels called on to perform. In a poignant scene, she comes across a severely retarded man who is running from zombies with his dead grandmother in his arms. She takes it upon herself to get the man—whom she calls "Dummy" until she learns his name (Maury)—to a safe place where he will be looked after.
A wealth of information is conveyed in that name, "Dummy." This is a world where being politically correct doesn't matter, where truth can sound cruel but be kind. Temple is matter-of-fact because that is the only coin that counts in a world of zombies roaming wild.
Early in Temple's travels she encounters the man who becomes her nemesis. Though at odds, he and she understand each other better than any other people on earth. Both are "God-haunted." Both recognize the truth and resolve to do what it takes to "stay right." He wants to kill Temple; she understands and even sympathizes with his reasons, but is not going to let him succeed.
Temple is not simply concerned with survival. In her evasive roaming, we find that Temple is weighed down with grief from her past actions. As we glean in the excerpt, she is capable of feeling joy and wonder. Her overriding desire is to someday see Niagara Falls. As she chatters to the largely speechless Maury, we glimpse the natural personality of a 15-year-old girl emerge every so often.
Part of the appeal of a good apocalyptic story is watching the survivors get over their shock (or succumb, according to their natures) and learning how alternative governments are developed and certain aspects of the status quo are restored.
This book has no such moments.
The world already has "gone to black damnation." Even so there are moments of beauty, contemplation, and suspense—how will Temple elude her nemesis? Will she save Maury? What is that interior evil she feels? This book pulls the reader through the story with a rare intensity, made all the stronger by Alden Bell's lyrical, fluid writing.
The audiobook of The Reapers Are the Angels is narrated with restrained clarity, by Tai Sammons. She seamlessly shifts into accents—from the genteel upper class to hardscrabble Southerners—until the listener forgets that there is only one reader. She does this without altering her voice much and this enhances the book greatly. The print version does not use quotation marks for dialogue and Sammons' narration actually may be easier for some to understand.
This story is ultimately about much larger issues than hordes of wandering zombies, who are less present here than in most monster stories. There is blood aplenty, but the zombies are far less dangerous than what lies within Temple and her pursuer.
The story is not perfect. Some of the plot details are immediately obvious although they take Temple a long time to figure out, which can be a bit frustrating to the reader. Overall the book packs its equal share of surprises, which more than compensate for the failures.
The Reapers Are the Angels looks at wonder, faith, inner demons, and truth. One reviewer called it "like Flannery O'Connor with zombies." Alden Bell is not O'Connor but he communicates many of the same concerns of the soul about which she wrote. The Reapers Are the Angels is a book about listening for God through all the questions and struggles that humans experience. As such, it is prime material for Lenten reflections.
Reader's Note: I would rate this "R" for zombie and human violence. There is some sex, although it is not graphically described, and occasional apocalyptic despair. Portions of this review originally appeared at SFFaudio.
Julie Davis blogs about it at Happy Catholic and discusses both books and movies at A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast. Her new book is Happy Catholic, published by Servant Publishing. Follow Julie on Twitter and Facebook