Alden Bell, The Reapers Are the Angels (London: Tor Books, 2011), 294pp
The Reapers Are the Angels is the story of Temple, a fifteen-year-old girl born into a post-apocalyptic America overrun by the living dead. The major theme of the novel is of Temple identifying and experiencing the beauty that still exists in the world, an approach which sets Alden Bell's work out from other post-apocalyptic fiction in which the world is bleak and unforgiving. Indeed, the setting is still a bleak one, with death and destruction a constant presence, but Temple has known no other life and so is uniquely placed to still perceive beauty in the world she inhabits. As Bell tells us at the end of the book, in the old world "wonders were rare and announced - like amusement parks or school trips. Now they are everywhere, for the delectation of those among the survivors who might be hunters of miracles." (pg. 294).
The one disappointment for myself was that whilst Bell describes the beauty of the post-apocalyptic world exceptionally well, he is not quite as good at hashing out the dynamics of it. Supplies, whether food, fuel or ammunition, seems easy to come by, even twenty-five years after the outbreak. Abandoned gas stations still have fuel, and working fuel pumps. Some cities still have a working power grid, as if the world had not atrophied at all. The survivors and communities of survivors that Temple encounters, with the exception of the hillbillies, are all remarkably well-behaved for people whose social norms and restraints have been removed and remade. Even the man whose attempt to rape Temple sets the story in motion comes across as more pathetic than intimidating. Most disappointingly, the living dead, the zombies, barely pose a danger to the characters. Temple dispatches them with ease, and even drives effortlessly through cities with hordes of them surrounding her car. These 'meatskins' pose no threat to any of the characters we encounter, making parts of the story seem underwhelming.
However, these faults can be forgiven due to Bell's quality of writing. The story flows well, and he is fantastic at describing the moments of beauty which Temple experiences. Unlike some, I actually appreciated the ending; I found it an appropriate and satisfying way to finish the book. Overall, Bell's novel communicates a vision of a post-apocalyptic world in which beauty remains for those willing to seek it out, and freedom belongs not to the survivor communities holed up, but the lone wanderers like Temple who search for it.