86 of 91 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Opening Pandora's box
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...
Published 16 months ago by Laura T
20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A post-apocalyptic-zombie-survivalist-with-a-twist sort of book
Hmmm, had I known this was a post-apocalyptic-zombie-survivalist sort of book, I'd have thought twice about offering to review it. Not really my thing, and once I'd started reading and the pennies were slowly dropping, I put it aside for a few days, but, if you review for Vine, you review what you pick, so I somewhat reluctantly went back to it, only to find that about a...
Published 16 months ago by DebB
Most Helpful First | Newest First
86 of 91 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Opening Pandora's box,
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
4.0 out of 5 stars Dark, detailed, but a little predictable,
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.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I loved it,
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.
22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Yet another world disaster – but what a story!,
I gave up reading science-fiction long ago, finding its latter-day manifestations pretentious, longwinded, ill-written or downright incomprehensible. "The Girl with All the Gifts" (ordered on the strength of an Amazon recommendation and the intriguing title) turns out to be one of the best science-fiction yarns I’ve ever read. I won’t fall into the blurb-writer’s and amateur reviewer’s error of outlining the plot, and I advise you to avert your eyes quickly from any review that seems about to do so. The book’s startling extrapolation from real scientific fact deserves to have its impact.
The author is evidently not only a scientist but a born novelist. His technique of hooking the reader instantly but only gradually revealing the full horror of the situation (and its explanation) is brilliantly executed. The writing style is deceptively easy and light, and wastes no words. The story is perfectly paced, each successive incident more gripping. There are a couple of places where the logic is a bit thin, but the story sweeps you on. At 90% on the Kindle’s indicator of how much you have read, you wonder how it can finish so soon. But it lets itself down on the very last page with a perfunctory, wishful “happy ending”, quite out of kilter with the gritty “reality” depicted up to that moment.
Nevertheless I’d give this book six stars if I could, for sheer inventiveness, good scientific background, good characterisation and very good writing.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not what it seems...,
In this horror-thriller, M. R. Carey (whose previous stuff I'm not familiar with) takes a popular, over-used trope and gives it a fresh biological twist. While this does mean that a good deal of the plot follows the well-trodden road of a band of survivors trying to get somewhere while avoiding grisly deaths, there's enough difference to keep things interesting.
For starters, the main character and first viewpoint we're introduced to is a ten-year-old girl, Melanie. While her nature is made clear to the reader fairly quickly, there's still a few pages of disquiet in which you're left wondering why a little girl needs locking up and restraining. Her thought processes and language feel credible, but not to the point that you feel you're reading a children's book. This is far from that.
Most of the other characters are similarly compelling, although I did sometimes struggle to differentiate between them as the style and wording of their viewpoints didn't seem particularly distinct from one another. Credit goes to the author for slowly turning a standard army guy into someone more individual and more likeable, and for making the character who serves as Melanie's 'defender' unexpectedly conflicted.
Carey's prose is snappy and engaging, if occasionally a bit over-wrought. I definitely wanted to come back for more when I had to put the book down, although towards the end my attention began to slip a little - I started to get bored with the standard survivalist trajectory. The ending itself took an unexpected path, although the reasoning for it felt rather murky. If a sequel follows I think I would pick it up.
This isn't a gentle supernatural tale, but I recommend it for fans of fast-paced horror-thrillers.
20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A post-apocalyptic-zombie-survivalist-with-a-twist sort of book,
Hmmm, had I known this was a post-apocalyptic-zombie-survivalist sort of book, I'd have thought twice about offering to review it. Not really my thing, and once I'd started reading and the pennies were slowly dropping, I put it aside for a few days, but, if you review for Vine, you review what you pick, so I somewhat reluctantly went back to it, only to find that about a third of the way through the pace shifts, the story changes, and I was off, caught up and hauled through to the the end.
This is a big book at 403 pages. There are lots of chapters, some less than a page long, and the story follows a single narrative arc, written in the third person, mostly from Melanie's point of view, but not solely.
The principal characters are all well drawn, altho' the fixated, science-trumps-everything doctor was a tad stereotypical. Melanie is a strong lead, and even as you begin to realise what her "gift" might be, you're still rooting for her. There are challenges throughout the book to what is humanity - and the relationships between Melanie and Justineau, and Melanie and Parks, are part of what make this book more interesting.
The end isn't quite what I expected, and seems to resolve pretty quickly for a book that's up 'til then taken its time. It doesn't, I think, bear too much deep thought - even as I read the last page my mind was offering quite a few "Well, yes, but how..." questions.
5.0 out of 5 stars Horror with a heart,
I’ll be honest: I'm a bit over zombies. Zombie films, fiction and even TV programmes have enjoyed huge popularity in recent years, and although there have been plenty of interesting reinventions of the genre, I do feel like I’ve read and seen it all. That made me a little bit reluctant to pick up MR Carey’s critically acclaimed bestseller The Girl With All The Gifts, but as critics have rightly pointed out, there is more to this book than the walking dead.
The Girl With All The Gifts opens with Melanie, an exceptionally gifted 10-year-old, being taken for lessons with the rest of her class, all of whom live in bare cells with a single picture attached to the wall with mysteriously scarce Blu-Tack. When they’re taken to their classroom, they’re strapped into chairs at gunpoint by soldiers. And the few people allowed contact with them are doused in bitter chemicals that block their human scent.
Melanie and her classmates, then, are not like other children – but crucially, neither are they like the infected, cannibalistic zombies, or ‘hungries’ who have overrun the country. Somehow, Melanie has retained not only sentience but also a startling intellect, despite the infection, and this makes her immensely valuable to what little remains of the government.
This naturally raises all sorts of interesting questions and moral dilemmas, all of which are played out through the interactions of the the small band of characters forced together by an incident that occurs relatively early on in the story.
At the heart of the novel there is the intense and deeply touching bond between Melanie and her teacher, Miss Justineau, whose kindness and humanity stands out to such a degree that Melanie – with no other parental figure in her life – develops an unshakeable, charmingly uncomplicated love and admiration. But there’s also Sergeant Parks, an aggressive man hardened to the point of cruelty by horrific experiences and the immense burden of responsibility, and Caroline Caldwell, the research scientist whose one great goal is to find out exactly what’s going on in Melanie’s infected brain. Finally, there’s Private Gallagher, who doesn’t even remember life before ‘breakdown’, and is barely more than a boy himself.
I’ve seen others suggest that this ‘isn’t really a horror novel'. I would disagree; I think it absolutely is. Post-Breakdown Britain has all the hallmarks of a horror fiction post-apocalyptic dystopia, the primary plot is one of survival and there is plenty of high-octane zombie action; there are also many scenes which are extremely grisly. It’s more accurate to say that it isn’t only a horror novel, and the tenderness within it is beautifully well-executed and appealing.
The characters themselves are mostly very well-drawn, and develop convincingly, even when they take an unexpected turn - my favourite character by the end of the book was not the person I thought it would be at the start, and almost felt like an unexpected bonus bestowed upon us by the author.
The only character I felt was a little two-dimensional was Dr Caldwell, who did tip over, Frankenstein-style, into the stereotype of the scientist driven mad by a desire for discovery and greatness. However, the moral question raised by her story arc is a complex one, and her presence in the novel would be valuable even for this alone. Miss Justineau is a delight, but despite Melanie’s hero-worship of her, remains fallible and realistic throughout. Melanie herself, who as a precocious ten-year-old could easily have been irritating company, has a determination and loyalty about her that is charming and uncomplicated. At the same time, despite her love of Miss Justineau becoming her driving force for most of the novel, Melanie also has a pragmatic rationalism that counterpoints her fundamentally sweet nature.
This is a book about a civilisation in its gruesome death throes, and in that regard, it does have a bleakness about it and there are times when the horror seems as if it will become relentless. There is also, however, a thread of hope and redemption that runs throughout the story, and an overall it’s a far more optimistic read than you’d expect, given the subject matter. It is, to use a cliché, an emotional rollercoaster, with moments of gentle melancholy, heart-pounding horror, intense sadness and humour borne of both darkness and innocence.
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting zombie story,
I wouldn't normally pick up a horror book, particularly something with zombies in, but after hearing Mike Carey read the first chapters of this book at an event, I knew I wanted to read the rest of the story. It starts with Melanie going to her daily classes. She sits in her wheelchair with her neck, arms, and legs strapped to it, so she can only face straight ahead. She knows that the classroom is somewhere far from Beacon, the place where everyone lives now, to stay safe from the Hungries. She knows that when Sergeant Parks wipes off his arm and holds it in front of her classmate, the boy snaps at his arm like a wild creature, and she can smell something wonderful in the room. Sometimes she asks her favourite teacher about how long they will stay in the classroom, or what she'll do when she grows up, but that makes the teacher sad.
Then the Hungries break in to the compound, and Melanie, Sergeant Parks, her teacher, and some others flee. They're heading towards Beacon, but no one has been able to get a radio signal from Beacon for months. So maybe they're creeping through zombie infested English countryside towards nothing. But they have to try.
I found the part of the story set in the classroom really interesting, seeing the life Melanie had, and the sort of thing the humanity of the book was doing to try to find a cure for the zombie plague. When they leave the compound, it becomes a lot creepier. It's a very 'Walking Dead' sort of environment, very quiet, with every little noise putting the characters and me reading on edge. The tension builds as they go from the countryside into first a small town, and then the outskirts of London. M. R. Carey moves between the different characters to tell the story, and by seeing from different stances, you gradually get a clearer picture of what happened with the spread of the plague, and the things the government did to try to fight it. The characters pass big craters in the roads where the government dropped bombs, and cross a swathe of land that's been burnt away to nothing from where they tried using fire to stop it. Everything seems like it could have happened, and even the route of the virus itself is something believable, which I enjoyed.
Overall, I'd definitely recommend 'The Girl With All The Gifts' for fans of zombie stories. It's an interesting look at what lengths some people might go to to 'cure' something, and how we deal with outsiders, people who are different from what we know. Melanie's innocence and intelligence combine to make her an interesting character to tell the story, and her gradual realisation about her background and how she can be more than just the girl in the wheelchair is a journey that sticks with you.
I give M. R. Carey's 'The Girl With All The Gifts' 7 out of 10.
[Review originally posted on my book blog.]
5.0 out of 5 stars Well written, well plotted... very very good indeed,
This review is from: The Girl With All The Gifts (Paperback)
(I’ll try not to reveal too much in this review, but there’s probably spoilers in here. I read a spoiler before I read the book and it didn’t damage my enjoyment though… In fact knowing the early “twist” helped me make sense of the initial chapters and might have increased my enjoyment…)
Zombies. Zombies. Zombies.
Zombies, everywhere! While Twilight brought in a vampire fad for a time, The Walking Dead has brought zombies back to the mainstream with a gory vengence!
Of course, for those interested in comics and all things geeky, zombies are a constant meme running through culture. Similar to the fascinating and recurring debate on “When is a strawberry dead?” (on the great BBC radio 4 show The Infinite Monkey Cage), zombies make us confront two things: the very nature of death and, in particular, death of the individual (the soul?) and the issue of… THE APOCALYPSE!
I wrote a little about the apocalypse in my review of Station Eleven. Suffice it to say, that the theme lets writers address aspects of human existence with the training wheels of society taken off.
In the case of this book (which is intelligent, thrilling, pacy and a VERY GOOD READ) the theme is it addresses is humanity or, more precisely, when does humanity start and when does it end?
The author, M R Carey, is a seasoned comic book writer, and it shows. I’m a seasoned comic book reader and I can see this book in a very visual way. Many of the themes and archetypes addressed in it are standard comic book/ geek culture tropes.
The Junkers. The characters (all, at least initially, stereotypes). The zombies. The landscape. All very very standard.
But this book isn’t standard. About 6 chapters in I feared it would be. But it isn’t. Here’s what sets it apart:
Melanie. She’s great. She’s an intelligent kid with self awareness but she always feels like a kid. This connection to childhood is maintained through her devotion to her teacher. Melanie is fully realised and the big reveal at the end makes so much sense not only because of a cyclical “ah!” moment, but also the emotional sense it makes to the book’s best and most central character, Melanie.
The explanation. Sometimes I like it when apocalyptic tales DON’T explain the BIG BAD REASON (eg: Y The Last Man) but when it’s done well (scientific enough to be reasonable and not enough to be unintelligible) it adds a whole sub layer of depth and pathos. M R Carey does it so well here. The reasoning explains Melanie. It explains each character’s motivations. And it explains and illuminates the ending.
The big shift in pace. For a brief time near the beginning I was worried that the book might lack pace. I loved the start, but there was a moment when I was concerned that the book would be confined to … well the confinement area. Then the big attack and, like a conductor downing a Red Bull, the tempo bursts forth and doesn’t stop. It doesn’t stop until the ending, which drops the pace to a soft calm inevitable dream-like climax which feels, after the read, the only and most complete end.
This is a book written by someone at ease with fiction, comics, quality TV and popular culture (M R Carey wrote the screenplay adaptation for this at the same time as the novel). It’s the perfect book for someone looking for a very well-written, well-paced and well-populated novel. It has a hefty mix of quasi-scientific ideas, emotional resonance and a plot that storms along likeSnowpiercer.
Buy it. Read it. Wait for the movie.
4.0 out of 5 stars Don't be put off by the zombies,
Intrigued by the blurb promising a dark tale of mysterious children locked up in cells strapped to wheelchairs I didn't think for a moment I was going to be reading the story of a brain munching fungus that turns Britain into seething herds of flesh eaters. Had I known this I would have avoided like the (ahem) plague.
But much to my amazement I thoroughly enjoyed The Girl with all the Gifts. It's a bone fide page turner with more than enough thoughtfulness to avoid dumbo horror zombie predictability, and enough good science to satisfy the nerds. The short sharp chapters keep the story charging along with all the pace of a 'hungry' catching the scent of a human armpit, and while the small ensemble of characters isn't quite as exquisitely painted as a quieter, more reflective exploration might do, the author's background as a comics man for DC and Marvel shines through in the very believable dialogue and some excitingly penned action scenes which left me with more than a few sleepless nights.
Yes, I could have done with a little more back story. There's no explanation as to why a parasitic organism suddenly goes from humble mushroom to world domination. And while the ending was satisfying in terms of the characters, the science was disappointingly baffling after what had been some pretty sound biology throughout the story.
Perhaps all will be revealed in the almost inevitable second installment of a book which has sold a lot of units and which in any case started life as a screenplay. And if there is a sequel, I for one will definitely be first in the download queue.
Most Helpful First | Newest First