*Novel provided by the author for an honest review.
For more information please visit Steve Alten's website.
Patrick "Shep" Shepherd was a promising major league rookie baseball pitcher when September 11th, 2001, hit. Shaken by the attacks, Shep left behind his soul mate and newborn daughter to enlist in the Armed Forces. Eleven years and four deployments later, Shep finds himself in Manhattan's VA hospital. His left arm is gone, his wife and daughter are gone, and he is haunted by the nightmares of war.
December 21st.: While world leaders meet at the U.N., Mary Klipot, a bio-hazard level-4 scientist working at the CIA labs in Fort Detrick, enters the Big Apple with Scythe, a swift-acting version of the Black Death designed to wipe out America's enemies abroad. Believing she is carrying out God's wishes, Mary infects herself, then unleashes Scythe upon Manhattan. The threat of a worldwide pandemic forces officials to seal off the island . . . the president among those trapped. Determined to rescue his wife and child, Shep follows his guide, Virgil Shechinah, through the plague-infected neighborhoods of Manhattan, revisiting the "Nine Circles of Hell" as portrayed in Dante's Inferno. And the Grim Reaper, loosed upon the land by a humanity who has once again tipped the scales in favor of evil over good, is stalking Patrick Shepherd.
I am at a loss of words on how to even begin this review other then by saying that this novel was scary as Hell! Grim Reaper: End of Days by Steve Alten is the debut novel in a new series that perfectly mixes fact and fiction until all the lines are blurred making it impossible to decipher the actual truth. This novel is a chillingly plausible tale about the end of days that will leave you hiding under your bed!
The facts Alten selected to use within this novel were terribly compelling. They help to substantiate and create the setting of this book giving it a present day immediacy that fits nicely with the current political turmoil. Not to mention that the political corruption sets an unnerving tone in conjunction with the man made virus Scythe, even before this deadly plague is released upon the world. There is a never ending sense of suspense, fear and unease that permeates the novel making this a dark dense read with strong religious themes.
There is a huge cast of characters within the novel that we follow, most notable Patrick Shepard. His journey through the various levels of Hell, using the modern day setting of Manhattan, gives a current and relevant face lift to the widely known Dante's Inferno. Shepard's, or rather Shep's, past is a blur and yet we are compelled by him and his journey to enlightenment, both spiritually and emotionally. While we know little about his history, the past unfolds before us in hallucinogenic glimpses that slowly unfurl the truth behind his past and present and why he chose to become a soldier and how he was injured. The cast of characters around him lead him through his journey and often times serve as tests of faith and endurance. Virgil, his main guide through this journey, is a psychiatrist who is helping aid Shep in learning the truth about himself as well as helping to enlighten the various cast about the religious implications of the current plague and it's relevance to biblical tales, for instance the tale of 'Noah and the Ark'. All the characters, while we don't get to know a lot about them, are highly developed and perfectly suited to aid in the various stages within the novel. You come to care about them and to despise the more corrupt among them. Truly this is a wonderful novel that shows humanity at both its best and worst making us consider who we really are as individuals and as a whole.
Steve Alten's masterful writing uses emotional appeal wonderfully throughout the novel, both as an aid and a hindrance. The range of emotions evoked is wide, varying greatly from disgust and unease to hope in mankind. The themes of religion help in reminding us that we are not simply good or evil, that we as people are capable of both. That the choices we make define who and what we are and aid in reinforcing the ideology that one man can indeed make a difference. Also, the graphic nature in which he describe the plague, otherwise known as Scythe, humanizes the disease giving it a disturbing face both through the descriptions of it's symptoms and of the history of the plague and its effects on society. This gives a face to the evil that man creates and the rippling effect that it has on humanity. As with one good deed, one misdeed is sometimes all it takes to create more evil in the world.
In the end I found this novel to be thought evoking and horrific, definitely not for the light hearted. It is dark and makes the reader look long and hard at the world around them. With political and religious overtones, this novel is terrifyingly plausible.
My Rating: 4 out of 5 Scars
Advisory: Graphic imagery