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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A post-apocalyptic novel - with feeling!, 8 Feb. 2014
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This review is from: The Girl With All The Gifts (Kindle Edition)
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.
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