Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Reapers are the Angels - Alden Bell

Summary: For twenty-five years, civilization has survived in meager enclaves, guarded against a plague of the dead. Temple wanders this blighted landscape, keeping to herself and keeping her demons inside her heart. She can't remember a time before the zombies, but she does remember an old man who took her in and the younger brother she cared for until the tragedy that set her on a personal journey toward redemption. Moving back and forth between the insulated remnants of society and the brutal frontier beyond, Temple must decide where ultimately to make a home and find the salvation she seeks. (Summary from book cover - Image from macmillan.com - Books given free to review)
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Pay attention, because we have a little surprise for you!
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Mindy's Review: I am stunned (nearly) speechless by every aspect of this book--the writing, the characters, the plot, every shred of everything. Good thing I can still type, eh?

Dramatic and gritty with a unique, inescapable voice, The Reapers are the Angels is a brilliant story, enhanced by characters that burrow into your skull, and woven together with splinters of bone and rivers of blood. Bell’s exquisite prose runs in striking contrast to vivid images of death and decay. His idiosyncratic grasp of the English language allows him to use the words ain’t and palaver in the same sentence without damaging the authenticity of his characters. Haunted by a past she cannot change and hunted by both the living and the living dead, Temple is a force of nature--fury and endless wonder, death and life personified--in her search for redemption in a horrifying world.

This morning I finished reading, closed the book, let out a big sigh of relief/contentment/sadness and, from the length of my exhalation, realized I must have been holding my breath for half the book. In the past two years or so, I’ve reviewed over 145 books for this blog and I have never read a book like this one. It is gorgeous. It is disgusting. It is just so good. I’m fairly certain it has ruined me for many books to come.

Her Rating: 5 Stars. For the sensitive reader: If you cringe at images of roiling maggots, mangled viscera, or fecal ooze, you probably shouldn’t read this book. Seriously, don’t even think about it. Back away slowly and go pick up something by L.M. Montgomery. Now. This book contains a few brief sexual encounters, occasional swearing, and an incredible amount of gore. It’s possible I’m still in shock and minimizing the extent of the carnage. Don’t you dare say I didn’t warn you.

Sum it up: If you are looking for a book to suck you in, mind, body, and soul, chew you up, and spit you back out again, run to the store and get this book*.

*But please, for the love of Alden Bell, read the above “My Rating” section before you do.

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Daniel's Review: As a reader, I mentally file my favorite works of fiction into two broad categories. Great Literature requires careful attention but can subtly remold your head and heart, changing you forever. Light reading, however, may spark your imagination and tantalize your palate, but seldom fires your soul. Unfortunately, books involving zombies always seem to fall into the latter category.

Not any longer.

One page into The Reapers Are the Angels, it was clear that this was a book that belongs on a shelf with Hawthorne, Dostoevsky, and Calvino. Beautiful images, carefully-crafted phrases, perfectly-balanced nuances--clearly, the work of a skilled writer. By the end of the first chapter, I was seeing through the protagonist’s eyes and tasting the flavor of her thoughts as she regretfully smashed in a zombie’s head with a rock.

Before long, the zombies showed up in force, and I was lost in Bell’s grand and awful vision of a world in ruins. Never has a post-apocalyptic wasteland been so lovingly and dreadfully spread out. But the true action of this book doesn’t come from the countless hordes of entrail-chewing revenants. Rather, it was the living who horrified, disturbed, and even inspired me.

Like the best zombie stories (to which it seems somehow wrong to compare this book), the undead here serve to highlight the depravity and soul-deadness of their as-yet-undecayed prey. Unlike its gore-soaked literary forebears, however, The Reapers Are the Angels lives up to the promise of its title and shows how beauty and redemption come, not in the absence of horror and evil, nor even by overcoming or conquering them, but somehow through them and in harmony with them. A paradox, perhaps, but it’s such complexities and their transcendence that sets great books apart from pulp page-turners.

His Rating: 5 stars. Not for the faint of heart on account of horrific images, which are only partially due to the zombies.

Sum it up: A moving meditation on life and death, beauty and horror, and the meaning of them all (with more zombies than you can shake a shotgun at).
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Are you as excited about this book as we are? If so, you'll be delighted to know that TOMORROW we'll be posting a GIVEAWAY with THREE chances to win
your own autographed copy!
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5 comments:

Kris said...

I'm glad to hear you enjoyed it so much. I recently reviewed this one also and I adored it because as you said "It is gorgeous. It is disgusting. It is just so good." Very True for this one!

nfmgirl said...

I, too, loved this story and the author's writing style. And that cover really haunts me! Everytime I see it, I become transfixed!

Jodi said...

So I'm wondering if this book is like Twilight in the sense that I was turned off to Twilight for so long because "I just not into vampires", yet it was still an entertaining read. So I'm thinking a book about zombies just doesn't sound like my type of thing, but is it possible I might be wrong? Thanks for posting such great reviews.

MindySue said...

Twilight is to Reapers as Step Up 3D is to Avatar (that is to say very different and not even remotely on the same level). I'm fairly certain Mr. Bell/Gaylord would cry at the comparison BUT I understand where you are coming from. I wasn't a vampire-lit reader before Twilight and I was DEFINITELY not a zombie reader before Reapers, but this book was 100% worth it.

MarthaE said...

Okay - I got breathless just from your review. :) I will enter the giveaway with hopes to win - if I can wait that long. If not I guess I will actually have to make a purchase.
Thanks for the review.

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