Book Review: The Reapers are the Angels, by Alden Bell

I told sj I was going to read this for Zombruary five years ago…

…and guess what never happened? One, I never got around to reading The Reapers are the Angels. Two, we never read the sequel together. Oops. Heh.

But I read TRatA this year, and I loved it, just like sj said I would. She never steers me wrong.

Zombies have infested a fallen America. A young girl named Temple is on the run. Haunted by her past and pursued by a killer, Temple is surrounded by death and danger, hoping to be set free.

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. 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.


TRatA has the best opening scene I’ve read in a while, and probably the best zombie introduction. When we meet 15-year-old Temple, she’s living in a lighthouse on an island off the coast of Florida. We don’t really get the idea that there has been an apocalypse and that Temple is living there in an attempt to hide or be safe, and it sounds like the ideal life. So relaxing. So beautiful. And then Temple finds a body washed up on shore…and it looks dead…and then it moves. The whole opening scene is great.

I don’t know that I’ve read a zombie book that’s taken place 25 years after the initial infection and meltdown (sj will let me know if I’m wrong). Temple is only 15, so this zombie-infected world is the only one she’s ever known, and she’s had to grow up super fast. She is more introspective, experienced, tough, and resourceful than many adults I know. Her favorite weapon is a gurkha knife. But that made me feel bad for her, too. She’s never had a carefree childhood. She’s never really been able to just chill and be a kid. And her self-analysis is heartbreaking. She doesn’t believe there is anything good in her…she believes she is thoroughly evil and that she has no chance for redemption.

But you guys, Temple calls zombies “meatskins.” MEATSKINS. That might be the best nickname for them I’ve come across, and it’s so accurate.

Oh! And there is another brand of “monster” in this book that I’m not going to give any spoilers about, but they are something else. I thought I knew where the story was going, and then…

Seriously off the rails…in the best, most disturbing way. But you’ll have to read the book to find out what I’m talking about.

And then there’s the man who wants to kill Temple as a matter of revenge, and though he’s meant to be the bad guy, it’s hard to hate him completely. He’s…complicated.

The Reapers are the Angels is another one I highly recommend if you are into zombie fiction. Good story, interesting characters, and it just might hit you right in the feels.

Book Review: Zone One, by Colson Whitehead

Q: What do you get when you cross a literary writer with zombie genre fiction?

A: Zone One.

Zone One is not your typical zombie apocalypse novel. Sure, there are zombies (obvs), and there is the killing of zombies (obvs), but Zone One is more about nostalgia and longing for a city that will never be the same again.

The immediate story takes place over the course of a weekend. Mark Spitz (no, not that Mark Spitz) is a sweeper in post-zombie-apocalypse Manhattan, going from building to building with Omega Unit, exterminating the stragglers that were left behind after the military’s initial sweep to clean up the skels. Being in NYC brings back lots of memories for Mark Spitz, and the bulk of the book is his nostalgia for the old world, and his perceptions of its transformation starting on Last Night.

Zombies are one of two categories in Zone One: skels, which are the typical shambling, chomping zombies; and stragglers, which are the more interesting of the two. Stragglers don’t move. Stragglers don’t bite (or, they haven’t been known to). Stragglers seem to be stuck in a very specific time and place in their minds — like they’re hypnotized — and they end up in places that probably had some meaning to them before they died.

The stragglers posed for a picture and never moved again, trapped in a snapshot of their lives. In their paralysis, they invited a more perplexing variety of abuse. One might draw a Hitler mustache on one, or jab a sponsor cigarette between a straggler’s lips. Administer a wedgie. They didn’t flinch.

You almost feel bad for them. They aren’t dangerous. They don’t react. They are the easiest to kill. Stragglers are the minority. Mark and Omega Unit play “Solve The Straggler” in an attempt to lighten the post-apocalyptic mood.

Mark Spitz’s perceptions of the post-apocalyptic world (and Whitehead’s writing) really make the novel, and Spitz’s perceptions are DEEP. Zone One is less about the zombies and more about a world that when described by Spitz, really isn’t all that different from the world before Last Night. And the only way I know how to talk about Whitehead’s boss writing is by providing quotes. Whenever I think about the way Whitehead writes, I give a contented sigh.

Here are two of my favorite quotes (but the WHOLE BOOK is quotable):

The air filled with buzzing flies the way it had once been filled with the hydraulic whine of buses, the keening of emergency vehicles, strange chants into cell phones, high heels on sidewalk, the vast phantasmagorical orchestra of a living city. They loaded the dead. The rains washed the blood after a time. The New York City sewer system in its bleak centuries had suffered worse.

And later in the book…

It was the sound of the god of death from one of the forgotten religions, the one that got it right, upstaging the pretenders with their billions of duped faithful. Every god ever manufactured by the light of cave fires to explain the thunder or calling forth the fashionable supplications in far-flung temples was the wrong one. He had come around after all this time, preening as he toured the necropolis, his kingdom risen at last.

Sj and I reread this for Zombruary, and we were a *tiny* bit nervous about rereading it. We remembered how much we loved it when we read it six years ago, and there was a small part of us that was afraid it wouldn’t be quite as good as we remembered. We shouldn’t have feared. I loved it as much as the first time I read it, and sj thought it was *better* the second time. That’s high praise.

If you’re into post-apocalyptic fiction, I highly recommend Zone One.

It’s #Zombruary!

(From sj’s blog in 2014)

Back in 2013, when sj still had her book blog, she started Zombruary. It’s exactly what it sounds like — reading zombie books in the month of February. It didn’t take off in 2013, mainly because she wasn’t impressed with any of the zombie books she was reading. In 2014, she tried again, and that’s when I started joining her. We read Pontypool Changes Everything and The n-Body Problem by Tony Burgess, and Zone One by Colson Whitehead. Without looking at Goodreads, I think I’ve been joining her for this on and off since then (probably off, mostly, because of school and work).

We are definitely doing Zombruary together this year, though, and we plan to read The Boy on the Bridge by M.R. Carey (which is also on my list for #20For20Books) and reread Zone One together. I would also like to read The Reapers are the Angels by Alden Bell because sj brought it up in our conversation about when Zombruary started, and I haven’t read that one.

I know this is late notice, but if you’d like to join us for Zombruary, feel free to use the button below for your posts/blog. I just ask that you link back to this post — this is sj’s thing, and because she doesn’t have a blog anymore, there is really no way to link it back to her unless you link to this post. You can also use the hashtag #Zombruary on Twitter and Instagram. I can’t guarantee I’ll be able to keep up with everyone’s posts due to school and work, but I’ll do my best!

If you’re joining us for Zombruary, what do you plan to read?