7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 21 August 2015
I didn't know anything about this book coming into it, which is always nice. I wasn't sure if it was sci-fi or thriller.
I was pleased to find the novel was dystopian and that I was engrossed in the early sections, which introduced the main character of a 10-year-old child, Melanie. The initial chapters of the novel are set in a military base and within this narrow environment the book works really well - the mysteries of how Melanie and her classmates are, what happens to the missing children and what lies beyond the bases walls are all compelling. Melanie herself is a well-written child character who immediately has your sympathies. It's difficult not to be moved by the situation Melanie and her classmates are in.
However, as the novel progresses and other locations are introduced, I felt it tailed off and I lost interest a little. The problem for me was that once the initial mysteries had been answered the rest of the book (about 2/3 of it) became a rather standard genre (I won't name the genre but it will be pretty apparent once you understand Melanie's condition) novel about a bunch of characters travelling cross-country whilst in constant peril. The intrigue I felt early on was gone and whilst the rest of the book was well written I was no longer enthralled.
Aside from Melanie, I didn't really care a great deal for the other characters, which didn't help.
Overall though, I think this is a book worth reading. Some people will love it and others, like me, will enjoy it with some reservations.
107 of 115 people found the following review helpful
It's difficult to know what to say about The Girl With All The Gifts without spoiling a twist that occurs early on in the novel and governs the entirety of the story from then on, but I think I'm safe to say that this story is set in an imagined dystopia, where huge population loss has decimated Britain and the few survivors hang on in military bases. On one of these bases lives ten-year-old Melanie, who spends most of her time in a cell and the rest in a classroom, where she soaks up information, especially Miss Justineau's stories of Greek mythology. But she and her fellow pupils are treated like dangerous animals, shackled to their seats and hosed down with disinfectant every Sunday. To Melanie, this is normal, but the reader realises within the first few pages that something is wrong...
This is a gripping and well-written thriller that runs along familiar lines, but manages to rise above its competitors by the sheer effectiveness of its storytelling and its careful handling of the central character, Melanie. I find that using child narrators is a very risky business, as it's so easy for the author to depict a child as twee, unrealistically naive, or sickeningly perceptive and honest. The depiction of Melanie, however, is almost entirely successful. This is partly due to her secret, which steers her depiction away from the usual cliches of childhood, partly due to the fact that she is not the only narrator, and partly because she does not narrate in first person, so MR Carey does not have to attempt the 'voice of a child'. I still had some niggles about her presentation, such as the story she writes early on in the novel, which does not read to me as the work of a ten-year-old with a 'genius-level' IQ, but as the work of a younger child with this level of ability. However, this can possibly be explained by the fact that we do not know how long Melanie has been in education. Still, I felt a little uneasy about her flawless moral code, and I could never relate to her quite as closely as I could to the other characters.
Fortunately, the rest of the cast are satisfyingly individual. Miss Justineau is the most traditionally likeable, but I found myself increasingly fascinated by the two soldiers and, especially, by the most morally suspect member of the crew, scientist Caroline Caldwell. I could never quite tell whether Caroline was meant to be the villain, fulfilling a 'mad scientist' stereotype, but I hope not, because I found her much more interesting as a 'grey' character. Although Caroline oversteps a certain moral line at least once during this novel, I found that I was still broadly sympathetic to her, and understood why she adopted the mindset she did to do the job she had to do. Her final futile discovery is a fitting end to her journey, and she performs the role of antagonist in the narrative without descending into cackling evil. This is a key addition to Carey's story, and I don't think that the novel would have worked nearly as well without her.
I would recommend this novel both to established SF fans and to those who do not usually read SF. Unlike most novels with a twist in the tale, it delivers fully upon what it promises, and does not rely on gimmicks to supply its consistently mounting tension. It should also have considerable crossover potential for young adult readers. Good stuff.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 8 February 2014
This was a very difficult review to write. I have a lot of feelings, that I haven’t yet untangled. But I want to let out some of this emotion in the form of this review. I have a lot to say, but I can’t say too much – the details of this book have been so wrapped up by the publishers that it would feel a shame to spoil anymore than they would like. I will say that I was looking forward to this book from the moment it was announced, spurred on by my love of Mike Carey’s Lucifer graphic novels. And now, this looks to be one of my favourite for the year – already!
Melanie and the children are not like other children. They stay in their rooms when not in class, which is led by one of four different teachers. There, they are taught the geography of England and the world – both things they have never seen. In fact, they have never seen anything but their cells, and their classroom. They know where freedom, whatever that is, lies – at the end of the corridor, behind a steel door. But when children are wheeled out of there, they never seem to come back…
Oh, and that’s the other thing. Whenever the children are taken to class, or to shower and eat (a once a week event), they are strapped into wheelchairs (despite the fact they can walk just fine), which neck straps and all. This is all done by a soldier, while two others watch on, guns pointed at the children’s heads.
Melanie’s world is not the world as we know it.
Nor is it the world as she knows it, come to think of it. She has never seen sky, and, until the day Miss Justineau forgets herself and strokes the little girl’s hair, has never felt human contact before. Even with her genius level IQ, she just doesn’t understand – from the big questions, like why they can’t go outside, to why their drunken teacher tells them the population density of Birmingham doesn’t matter, because the population of Birmingham is really 0. But…that’s not what they should be being taught.
This is a twisting book. It runs circles, and then double backs on you. It’s a quiet book, for sure, especially given its subject matter, but it’s got a lot of weight in it.
Spoilers in the following paragraph – not huge ones, just enough if you wanted to go into this book blindly. You can skip the next paragraph, and read ahead instead, if you don’t want any info.
But this is a (this is the naughty word) zombie novel at its most basic level. What I liked was the fact it isn’t a shooting and bloody book. The zombies, as physical beings, are not the matter here – mostly their effect on a mental level is what matters. Because there are mysteries here – existential, as well as medical. While Dr Caldwell, the last remaining scientist with a slight chance, who only has this facility that the children are on, is hellbent on finding the cure, she is inadequately equipped. And there are many more problems than that later in the book.
Back to spoiler free waters, the book is also about the care and protection of a young child. It is about a troubling and complicated friendship between Miss Justineau, who is trying to absolve herself from former sins, and Melanie, who puts them all in danger, but is full of platonic infatuation for her caring teacher – the only one to ever show her affection.
Then there’s Parks, a soldier at his core, who finds himself faced with difficult decisions and difficult decisions. He starts off a bastard that you slowly come to care for. And Gallagher, who is under Park’s command, a troubled young man who has known of the discipline and bravery for soldier work, but will do anything to escape his troubled life at home.
This is not just a post-apocalyptic novel. This is a post-apocalyptic novel with feeling – that will twist you up as you see the bad things coming for the characters you don’t want hurt, and will let you sigh with relief when they struggle out of tight corners. We begin in a static that changes rather quickly, and the novel you thought you’d started turns out to be a totally different one. I can’t help but be vague to stop myself from spoiling any surprises.
But the ending is what really makes this book. It is as surprising as it is inevitable. But again, I won’t say much more.
I will admit that the prose style left my feeling slightly detached from the drama, but I still felt something. I’m just nitpicking now, to try and find a negative, but I am definitely emotional compromised by this book. It’s wonderful, and one of the best I’ve read in the post-apocalyptic genre, because it sneaks up on you and throws things at you that you never thought you’d see.
I do love Mike Carey. Highly recommended.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on 24 February 2015
I walked into a bookshop and asked for the best book the assistant had read in AGES - they handed me this. I had no idea what it was about, I didn't even know what genre it fell into, all I knew was the cover looked interesting and the assistant said it was good. It was GREAT. The story just captured me. I couldn't put it down because I needed to know what happened next. I am not going to spoiler and I don't know how to talk about the plot without spoilering.
It was just good. And I needed a book like this in my life, one that you care about. One where you care about the characters even whenyou dont like them. It's good. Worth a read even if this isnt your usual type of book.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
This is mostly a zombie survival horror, but with a key twist regarding the central character. It's obvious almost immediately how she's different, so the question is how that is going to play out and why she's as she is. The story is generally fast-paced, with some periods more introspective as the scene is set from her view, but with many thinks happening that make for a dramatic change. There is a progression towards a finale that is not entirely unexpected, but some of the details may still surprise. It's more like many of the genre, where the answers unfold slowly so that by the time they a certain, they're not surprising.
It's the kind of book that you are likely to finish very quickly, and it's certainly up to keeping your interest through the book. The clues about things are spread throughout, so it remains coherent. Overall it's a good read for those who like apocalyptic, end of days or survival horror stories.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
This dark, post-apocalyptic tale is a stunning thriller which kept me on edge all the way through. We start with the point of view of Melanie, a young girl kept in a stark and inhuman bunker with class mates and a selection of teachers. Slowly, we realise why. They are under military control and only one person who comes into contact with these children, the teacher, Miss Justineau, retains any vestige of humanity. Can we blame them? We don’t yet know what’s happening ‘out there’. A fungus has infected humanity and the scientists are desperate to find a cure. Do these children carry an immunity and if so, how can it best be turned into a cure?
I was absolutely gripped by this story and by what it tells us of human nature and its response to adversity. The little girl was a haunting figure and all the way through I wanted her to be safe. I cared about her and her survival. I also felt for her teacher, fighting against immense odds to look after her charge. Other characters pulled me or repelled me, but sometimes I changed my mind about them as their stories unfolded. The end was sublime. Horrific in some ways but ultimately hopeful. It’s a haunting story and I shall not forget it in a hurry. Highly recommended.
on 30 October 2015
If you like to get lost in books then this is one for you. A new take in an oversaturated market, Carey’s The Girl With All The Gifts is a Science Fiction story about a young girl called Melanie finding out who she is in a zombie infested dystopia.
If you ever struggled to fully grasp the message in Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend then the themes here are similar enough for you to gain clarity with it after reading The Girl With All The Gifts. Please do not associate this book with the film I Am Legend. That film resembles neither this book nor the book it was based upon.
The novel had just the right amount of scientific grounding for me to speculate the plausibility and I very much enjoyed saying ‘ophiocordyceps’ with growing confidence as the book progressed. In truth my internet history is littered with disturbing pictures of insects torn apart by fungi. I even managed to drop it into a sentence the following day and looked like a complete psycho as I explained what it meant.
It enraptured me to such an extent that it became bedtime material for my toddler. I’m pretty sure that he had very little concept of the content though part of me is secretly hoping that it will settle in there somewhere; a seed of science fiction waiting for the right moment. I was drawn in by the central characters. Melanie is the perfect balance of innocence and inquisitiveness and I truly enjoyed discovering Carey’s world through her paradoxical vulnerability. I was also touched by the duality of Miss. Justineau who fought her mothering instincts for as long as she possibly could, which in the end wasn’t very long at all. A mother, a scholar, and most importantly a moral human being she reached out to me as a friend and held on to me as a role model. A truly wonderful character; a Wendy to a world of Lost Boys.
I love to read books where, once finished, you can sit and think over what you’ve read for a while and this did not disappoint. Without wanting to ruin the storyline for any prospective readers, the ending was both thought provoking and harrowing in its possibilities. I’ve already verbally recommended this book to friends with similar reading tastes but to anyone out there looking for a new favourite to wear out give this a try. You can thank me later.
on 4 September 2015
While the viewpoint of the story is mainly told from Melanie’s point of view, there are four other main characters. Miss Justineau is perhaps the most relatable character. She is a teacher and empathises with Melanie. Miss Justineau slowly becomes horrified at the treatment of the children, especially Melanie – it could be argued that she is the more humane of the group.
Yet it is the soldiers who hold my attention with their military discipline. Sgt Parks is the more senior, and this shows through his actions and reactions. Pte Gallagher is the youngest of the adults, dreaming of home. Both these men are abound in honour and bravery and it is them that constantly push the group forward.
Caroline Cadwell is also an interesting character. I could not be certain if she is the villain, depicted as a mad scientist who is only fuelled on by her need to complete her research and her personal ambition of saving mankind. She is definitely an antagonist, there are moments where she moves the plot forward with her eccentric behaviour and obsession with Melanie.
Melanie is perhaps a more complex character. On the exterior she appears to be weak and fragile but lurking under this is something that is waiting to be unleashed. Which side of her will win.
The setting of the book is mysterious. We only know what is going on within the vicinity of the main characters. We have no idea what chaos the rest of the world is in. The main theme of this story is the existence of the main characters and how they will survive. This is a compact exploration of human life and what you would do to survive. Would you be like Miss Justineau who just tries to help? Or would you be like Caroline Cadwell and be ruthless in your determination to figure out the secrets in saving humanity?
Each of the five characters go on a journey and become changed upon realising how their story is going to end. This is a gripping read, filled with twists and turns along the way.
on 26 June 2015
I think I'm being a bit generous with 4 stars. It's really just a measure of my overall enjoyment of it, which was quite high. But I did have some issues with it. Firstly, the synopsis is very, very similar to the Naughty Dog video game "The Last of Us". The book was published in 2014 and the video game was released 12 months earlier, in 2013 (and in production for a number of years before that.). Both the book and the video game, are set 20 years after humanity has been devastated by widespread infection from a mutation of the cordyceps fungus. In both the game and the video, humanity is reduced to pockets of survivors in fortified enclaves, who scavenge an existence out of the remnants of the old world. In the game the main protagonist is a young girl and much of the story is focussed on her relationship with a surrogate father figure. In the book the main protagonist is a young girl and much of the story focusses on her relationship with a surrogate mother figure. I cant go on without revealing spoilers, but the similarities between the two are too numerous to ignore. I would stop short (just) of saying the story is plagiarised, but the synopsis is definitely not original.
The second issue is with some of the science. The idea of a mutated cordyceps crossing the species barrier to infect humans, is staggeringly unlikely, but I'm actually OK with that. If that was the only 'leap' I'm asked to make as a reader, I'd have no issue. But unfortunately, there are a number of examples in the book where the science described, is either impossible, or so unlikely that suspension of disbelief is shattered. In some cases the explanations offered violate laws of physics. For example we are told that the 'infected' can survive with a bare minimum of a bowl of worms per week. A single bowl of worms simply doesn't contain enough energy to fuel the activities described, no matter how efficient the metabolic processes. I have a science background and perhaps I'm being too picky, but that simple balance of energy in must balance energy out I would think is common sense to most. In other places, the biological explanations are glossed over. We are never sure if the infected are dead or alive and are described as both in parts and something in between in others. Something is either dead or alive. Dead is an absolute state and is pretty easy to define. If there are signs of life - metabolic activity, cellular function, movement, cellular respiration, reproduction etc - then the thing aint dead! If you are going to go with 'the dead are risen' then you need a supernatural explanation by definition. If you are going to go with a scientific explanation - and this book does, then stick with it. In parts the book wavers between science and the supernatural, like it's not sure what it's trying to be. It just doesn't fully work for me. I would like to go into detail, but I cant without revealing critical plot points and spoilers.
Finally, the ending seemed a little rushed and implausible. Like an afterthought. Like the author was struggling to figure out how to bring it all together and settled on a plot arc that felt incongruous with the rest of the book. I wasn't satisfied with it.
So why have I given it 4 stars? Because it's beautifully written. It has pace and excitement, intrigue and dynamics. The characters are very 3 dimensional and you do care about them. In spite of a few fairly critical faults, I found it hard to put down. That alone merits 4 stars.