Review: Grim Reaper: End of Days by Steve Alten

Review written by Jess Peacock
(Note: Reprinted from Fangoria Magazine)

Grim Reaper: End of Days, the latest novel from Steve Alten, aspires to work on a number of levels. Primarily, it attempts to re-imagine Dante’s Inferno as a post-modern apocalyptic thriller while also functioning as a scathing commentary on the perceived moral breakdown within the United States, using the recent financial crisis and the Iraq War as a double fisted soapbox with which to proselytize from.

Unfortunately, End of Days reads as an incomprehensible amalgam of literary and cinematic end-of-the-world stereotypes swirling amidst a heavy dose of pseudo-spiritual babble more fit for Christian retailers than proper horror fiction.

Predominantly taking place in and around Manhattan after a psychotic chemical weapons researcher unleashes the Scythe virus (a form of the Black Plague), the novel follows Iraq War veteran Patrick Shepherd as he battles his way through disease, mayhem, and the United States military to locate his estranged family.

As Shepherd, accompanied by psychologist Virgil (subtle), dodges bullets, crashes helicopters, and, inexplicably, duels with Death himself, the side-effects of the virus and its antidote enable him to see behind the veil of the physical world and into the spiritual nine circles of Hell first illustrated by Dante Alighieri’s epic poem Divine Comedy.

Uncomfortably paranoid in its endless ranting on the evils of society, Alten pulls out every conceivable modern day conspiracy theory as fodder for his opus, including the Bush Administration’s alleged complicity in the attacks of 9/11 and the 2001 Amerithrax incidents.

Aside from the ridiculously convoluted story within Grim Reaper: End of Days, Alten fills his 500-plus pages with paper-thin characters who speak in a wooden, overly expository manner that often comes across more as a textbook on Gnostic mysticism and less a fictional form of entertainment. To make matters worse, the author displays an embarrassingly poor grasp of basic writing technique when he regularly switches from present tense to past tense, often within the same paragraph.

While Alten has found a moderate amount of success with his prehistoric shark series MEG, his latest effort falls flat in every respect, more akin tonally to Glenn Beck’s abysmal Overton Window than an apocalyptic classic such as Stephen King’s The Stand. Fans of the horrific would be well advised to avoid this unfortunate new release.