I read a lot of zombie books. That will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me, nor will the info that I tend to enjoy more of them than I don’t. But even still, I’ll be the first to admit that the genre tends to be pretty repetitive, with most authors just doing their tired spin on the same cliches that Romero popularized years ago. Of the numerous zombie books I have read, only a handful really stick out. The Reapers Are the Angels immediately jumps to the forefront of that list.

This is a fantastic work, a mixture of zombie-horror and Southern gothic. One of the cover blurbs says something about it being like if Flannery O’Connor wrote a zombie novel, and that’s a pretty fair comparison, though personally I think it reads much more like Cormac McCarthy or William Gay. Still, either way, we’re talking a winner.

The best thing about this novel is the excellent heroine, a young girl named Temple, wandering through the zombie-infested wasteland of what was once America. She has suffered great tragedy in her life, and constantly wrestles with containing a dark fury that bubbles up within her. Temple is wise beyond her years, and reminded me a lot of the young heroines in films like True Grit or Winter’s Bone (in fact, I couldn’t help but picture Jennifer Lawrence in my head as I read). She’s an amazingly drawn character with a lot of great, memorable and quotable dialogue (“I don’t know about evil…Them meatskins are just animals is all. Evil’s a thing of the mind. We humans got the full measure of it ourselves.”). I’d say I almost fell in love with her while reading it, but she’s only 15, so maybe I shouldn’t.

Almost as great as Temple is Moses Todd, ostensibly the book’s antagonist. I say “ostensibly” because he IS chasing Temple across the country, looking to kill her to avenge his brother, whom Temple accidentally killed when he tried to rape her (“he was movin to take unsolicited liberties with me,” as she puts it). But this is no simple case of good vs evil. There is an odd respect between Temple and Moses – they understand each other, and see in each other a sort of reflection of themselves. Every encounter they have in the novel is tremendous and tension-filled. Their relationship is by far the most fascinating aspect of the book – I especially like how Moses is willing to save Temple from anyone else trying to hurt her, simply because he believes she is special and deserves only to die at the hand of someone like her.

There’s one weird, somewhat off-putting story thread, involving a family of demented, murderous rednecks who have taken to injecting themselves with the blood of zombies, which has in turn mutated them into giant, rotting beasts with bone-protrusions forming a sort of armor over them. I suppose it was the author’s attempt to further separate his vision of the zombie novel away from others, but it comes so far into the book that you’re not really expecting a new kind of monster, especially ones described so oddly and that sound so implausible. Still, they exist mostly as an obstacle for Temple and Moses, and their involvement leads to some more great scenes between the two, so their presence isn’t a deal-breaker or anything.

I loved this book a lot more than I was expecting to, flying through it in just a couple days. I plan on re-reading it, perhaps more than once, in the years to come, and that’s the highest compliment I can give a novel. Definitely check it out if you’re looking for a different take on the zombie novel, or just a plain engaging and entertaining post-apocalyptic novel with a couple of unforgettable characters.