I have been wanting to read this for a while and, in light of the praise it has received, I find myself somewhat underwhelmed. Which is not that say that it is bad. On the contrary, it is good. Very good, in fact. Just not, I guess, as great
as I anticipated it was going to be. As a whole, it is engrossing, scary, suspenseful and thoughtful and never, to me anyway, boring, and, as such, it earns a 3 star "good, I liked it" rating. However, there are some not-insignificant aspects that are serious detractors.
Mainly, the author's admiration of Cormac McCarthy is conspicuous. This is most obviously detected in the lack of quotation marks during dialogue. I have no problem with this in principle, but coupled with the other "McCarthy-isms" it is just too much. The ubiquity of uncommon/archaic words and the frequent use of polysyndeton smacks too closely to McCarthy's voice to be coincidence. It sounded like someone trying to sound
like Cormac McCarthy or, at its lowest points, mocking his style. I don't at all think Bell was intentionally mocking him, but it's just that it seemed that he was forcing himself into a style like McCarthy's and this, to me, made the work feel somewhat insincere.
Sort of related to the previous point, I wasn't convinced by Temple's voice. She didn't seem to speak like a fifteen-year-old girl who had lived mostly on her own and had no education. She got lucky on some ten-dollar words. Also, I thought her personal guilt was unwarranted. I certainly would not have felt like a sinner simply for doing what needed to be done to survive. Lastly, she just wasn't that sympathetic to me. She was all right. I didn't hate her, but she seemed just so "everyman" to me that I could not stretch beyond a superficial concern for her fate.
There was much in the way of philosophical rumination in this book. Again, not a problem for me in principle, but it needn't be so obvious.
But by no means would I dissuade anyone from this book. It got 3 stars from me, which is a good thing and, taken at face value, is an engrossing and scary piece of zombie horror fiction. Certainly, read it and enjoy it, as I did. I only find it somewhat disappointing that its philosophical pretensions may have gotten in the way of a purer work of horror. Additionally, I feel the thematic intention of the work may have been stronger had it not been laden with pretense. Still, it gets a thumbs-up from me.
EDITED TO ADD: I just read an interview with Alden Bell, aka Joshua Gaylord, where he admits the influence of Cormac McCarthy, so I'll take that as an homage and not a rip-off. It doesn't really change my rating, but Bell/Gaylord seems like a nice guy and I'll look forward to reading the next Reapers
novel featuring Moses Todd. Plus, what an interesting choice of characters for the second book!
EDIT 12/7/12: After some thought and discussion I might venture to upgrade the review to four stars. It's been a few months since I've read this, but I still keep thinking about it, so there must be something to it. I'll re-read it again at some point, but for now I'll upgrade the rating to a 3.5. Definitely worth reading.