Exit Kingdom by Alden Bell

Rating 8.8/10
An author who does post-apocalyptic very, very well.

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The Reapers are the Angels was one of my favourite books of 2011, and is indeed one of my favourite books within the entire dystopian/post apocalyptic genre. I have two things to thank its author Alden Bell for: Firstly for writing a book I enjoyed so much and secondly for introducing me to the work of Cormac McCarthy, whose influence on Bell and his writing is evident in both these works. Any who have read McCarthy's The Road and fallen under its sparse and poetic charm will delight in the two books Bell has produced.

Please note: Although Exit Kingdom is a prequel to The Reapers are the Angels both book are self-contained and can be read in whichever order the reader so desires.

In a world where the undead outnumber the living, Moses Todd (the only recurring character from The Reapers are the Angles) roams the post-apocalyptic plains of America. His reprobate brother, Abraham - his only companion -has known little else. Together they journey, because they have to; because they have nowhere to go, and no one to answer to other than themselves. Travelling the bloody wastelands of this ruined world, Moses is looking for a kernel of truth, and a reason to keep going. And a chance encounter presents him with the Vestal Amata, a beguiling and mysterious woman who may hold the key to salvation. But he is not the only one seeking the Vestal. For the Vestal has a gift: a gift that might help save what is left of humanity. And it may take everything he has to free her from the clutches of those who most desire her.

New York resident Bell, an Edgar-award-winning novelist, once again writes in the southern gothic style which works so well. What sets his post-apocalyptic work apart from the majority of others is that most of his characters have never known a life any different than the harsh one they currently living, as few were alive before the dead began coming back to life. And this provides a refreshingly alternative take on the post-apocalyptic survival story. But his is not true of all and the story's lead, Moses Todd, is old enough to have know the world before the zombie (slugs as they are referred to here) infestation and the memories of his wife and child hold a special poignancy. But while as a reader you are able to sympathise and empathise with Moses his brother, Abraham, is a different matter altogether. He is immoral, corrupt, and possesses none of the virtues which allow his brother to cling on to his humanity. And Bell throws these two disparate siblings together with an intriguing lady called the Vestal Amata, a woman who holds no attraction to the ever-hungry dead and may well be the key to the survival and re-emergence of the human race. And so the brothers Todd become the Vestal Amata's escort to sanctuary named the Citadel, where it is hoped tests will tell why the slugs take no interest in her. And this is the story recounted by the now one-eyed Moses, sitting by a camp-fire in the company of other lost souls like himself. Moses's story is as brutal as it is moving.

Exit Kingdom and The Reapers are the Angels are born from the author's lifelong love of zombie movies and his own fascination of what post-apocalyptica would look like once it had been around enough to become normal. Inspired by the southern gothic writers like the aforementioned McCarthy, William Faulkner, Tom Franklin and Daniel Woodrell it is a story beautifully written, featuring complex characters that speak in an hyperbolic, almost biblical way.

I will, hand-on-heart, be completely honest and say that Exit Kingdom did not engage me as completely as its predecessor. But this is not a criticism, it is simply my way of saying that The Reapers are the Angels was superb and Exit Kingdom is simply a very good book from an author who does post-apocalyptic very, very well. Recommended to all fans of the dystopia/post-apocalyptic genre.

Exit Kingdom: A Novel by Alden Bell
Tor UK, November 2012

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