The Blackstone Audio production of The Reapers Are the Angels by Alden Bell, narrated by Tai Simmons, is a mesmerizing horror story about a girl who comes of age amid the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse. Temple is a fifteen-year-old survivor who kept herself and her younger brother Malcolm alive for years, who never knew her parents and doesn’t remember the “old times” – the time before the breakdown of American society, when stores sold things, roads were maintained, families lived together in one place, and people stayed dead after they died.
This book was highly recommended by Becky of RA for All and many other bloggers when it was first published two years ago, but since it also got compared to The Road by Cormac McCarthy, which I didn’t get past the first few pages of, I never got around reading it. But when I saw during Zombie Awareness Month (May, in case you didn’t know) that The Reapers Are the Angels made The Guilded Earlobe‘s list of Top Ten Zombie Novels and Series, I was convinced that audio was the way to go with this one.
At first I wasn’t sure I liked the narration by Tai Simmons. Temple’s thoughts even as she skillfully dispatches a zombie invading the safe haven she was living in (a small lighthouse) were delivered so matter-0f-factly that her affect seemed almost flat, until. as the listener, I began to understand how stoic Temple has had to be to survive. Being afraid is a luxury she won’t allow herself.
This book has a strong air of Southern Gothic, so the slightly Southern twang in Temple’s voice goes well with the story’s themes of grief, revenge, and redemption. Temple is like a reluctant avenging angel in her now aimless travels, cutting down zombies with a single swing of her always-sharpened gurkha knife…but only when she can’t avoid it. The zombies are following their nature, she knows; it’s not their fault that they came back so many and so suddenly that they destroyed all but a few pockets of civilization.
This is the most literary zombie novel I have yet come across. The old-fashioned language, almost biblical, reminded me in many ways of The Passage by Justin Cronin, which was often described as a literary vampire novel, and Temple’s precocious maturity reminded me of Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird. Be forewarned, however. There will be blood. And gore. And dismemberment. Beyond Faulkner’s wildest dreams.
Disclosure: I listened to a copy of The Reapers Are the Angels borrowed from the public library.