Ashton Kutcher once said the only reason he works out is in case the zombie apocalypse happens and he needs to save his loved ones. Far too many zombie story protagonists seem prepared for it. While the main character in The Reaper Virus does have some resources that give him an advantage for survival, he isn’t one of those people. In Walking Dead terms, he has more in common with Eugene than Rick or Darryl, but the truth is he’s just an ordinary guy who finds himself in extraordinary circumstances, a classic setup.
The story begins with a preface from Nathan, the main character who shares the author’s name. In this preface, the story presents one of the coolest promises I’ve ever read:
“I ask that you judge me for who I am and what I fought for, not what I’ve done.”
The Reaper Virus is substantially themed for survivor’s guilt. The idea is, to get home to his family, Nathan has to do some morally questionable stuff as he fights across Richmond. Critically, I think it’s a promise that never fully delivers. The story hits these points along the way where Nathan (the character) commits some unspeakable act, but as a paradox of making a character sympathetic, I couldn’t really blame him. There are some classic setups here as well as some new ones, but for the most part, I never felt like Nathan has much to feel guilty for. He’s doing what he has to do, and it’s understandable and, importantly, relatable.
However, the juxtaposition between our sympathies for a protagonist and that promise makes apparent a success of the novel: I do care about Nathan, and I do care about whether he gets home.
The Reaper Virus has a ton of heart with a classic horror feel. I often felt like I could have been reading I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. To be clear, I’m not saying Richard Matheson fans who are missing that horror trailblazer will find a second coming in Nathan Barnes. But I do think fans of Matheson may find some similarities here and should give The Reaper Virus a shot.
In the novel’s after matter, Nathan (the author) informs us that The Reaper Virus was originally a blog. That made so much sense after reading it, and I wish the publisher had made that apparent to me upfront. The Reaper Virus is essentially an epistolary. Chapters and sections are date- and time-stamped, and it reads like Nathan leaving entries in a journal for whomever will find it after he’s gone (not a spoiler; just an expression). By its nature, sometimes, the story drags, or there are periods of non-events where it seems Nathan (the character) is making entries for the sake of making entries. But, that’s sort of the point of the format. That is to say, considering the structure, there can be times where it seems the story meanders, but that feeling is precisely the point of the story. Nathan is alone in the midst of his beloved city crumbling, and he has no idea what’s happened to his wife and children. So, he despairs, and he writes in his journal because that’s the only comfort he can grant himself. As the reader, it’s sort of incumbent on you to persevere and to root for him to keep going. In that way, The Reaper Virus is somewhat an exceptional literary experience that pulls us into the narrative a bit deeper than a traditional story.
There are a lot of small things that spoke to me. For instance, Nathan (the character) has some great sarcastic moments. And even in the apocalypse, Nathan (the author) finds ways to make us laugh with quick punch lines and some ridiculous setups.
Overall, it’s an intimate, honest tale about one’s world ending and the fight to cling to what’s left. There is a lot of nerdy zombie speculation, rationalization, and theory for the zombie fanatic, and there is a good amount of fan service and indulgement.
If you like immersion in post-apocalyptic and zombie tales, this one is a good bet.