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.
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.
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.
on 14 February 2016
Meet Melanie, seemingly a normal precocious 10 year old, she loves to learn, she loves her teacher but she's not really sure about spending 16 hours a day in a cell, or the bowl of grubs she is fed once a week, or why it's necessary to restrain her with muzzle and hand cuffs when making the trip to the classroom, but then with no recollection of the outside world, she doesn't know any different.
It's an intriguing set up for a novel (or a short story, or a film or all three!) Who or what is Melanie, where is she and what is happening in the world outside? Alas the opening chapters are about as good as it gets, when we get round to the business of answers it quickly becomes clear that we are in well worn genre country. Since we work out fairly quickly that there isn't going to be anything truly original happening here, the book needs to be judged on the quality of the storytelling, the writing and the characters and it just felt to me that we are in solid C+ territory with all three.
There's a short interview with the author at the end of the book where we learn that the first few chapters were originally a short story which he, seeing potential (or dollar signs, I'm not sure which) adapted in to a screen play and novel simultaneously. I think it really shows. As I've said the beginning is by far the best part of the novel, intriguing and original, then there is a mad rush as we break out of the well defined confines of the opening and out in to the wider world. From there we jump from one set piece location to the next, and you can feel the screen play clunking in the background, the preoccupation seems to be how would this look on screen rather than how does it work on the page. Another fact i learned from the interview is that the author has written for comic books; gaining much critical acclaim. It must be a tough art to perform well, cramming emotion and detail in to short bursts of text and it shows in the novel , we get the occasional well crafted turn of phrase or line of dialogue but the prose which fills the gaps between these moments is plodding and dull with very little subtly or nuance. The characters are standard genre archetypes, the grizzled sergeant , the twitchy nervous recruit, the sinister scientist and the moralistic teacher, just add a plucky, innocent and resourceful child and I'm shouting house in genre character bingo.
To conclude then, I thought it was a very average read, it's good fun, if you like this kind of thing then it's perfectly acceptable, I think I may have been quite harsh with it but only cause the marketing of the book is so tricky, if they had just said what it was from the outset then I would have no problem with it, then again I also wouldn't have read it.
on 5 September 2016
I've been told on many occasions that the zombie / post-apoc genre is dying (haha!). That it's fast out of fresh ideas and the zombie storyworld is saturated.
But this book changes that completely.
The Girl with All the Gifts is certainly on my radar for favourite reads of this year. The story is beautifully crafted with interesting, diverse characters, and a premise that just ties everything together so nicely. The fact that it's written in present tense also makes the action seem immediate, as though we're really on the journey with the characters.
Of course, the spin for the book isn't entirely original (orphiocordyceps being the main feature of PS4's 'The Last of Us'), M.R. Carey puts his own unique sauce on this BBQ to really get a fresh story cooking.
A perfect level of thriller / post-apoc / horror.
on 10 July 2016
Definitely not your typical zombie novel, The Girl with All the Gifts redefines the apocalypse genre with a refreshing twist that is almost as juicy as brains.
The Girl with All the Gifts is staggeringly difficult to review because it is one of those stories that is best enjoyed if you know absolutely nothing about it. If you are planning on reading this in the near future I would advise you to leave this review purely so you can have the full effect!
The plot isn’t difficult to grasp, but it is incredibly far from the usual tarnished brush that all zombie apocalypse novels are painted with nowadays. The story begins with Melanie, a young girl who has spent much of her life split between school and her cell. Her cell is her hell but the school is her redemption. Especially when it’s a Miss. Justineau day. Miss. Justineau teaches Melanie and all the other children things that they never knew – facts about animals, plants, towns, maths. And sometimes she even read them stories. That was always Melanie’s favourite.
It is interesting to see this vision of a fragmented world slowly build up from the perspective of this young girl, a world which she herself knows very little about and only begins to understand the extent of the Breakdown and the Hungries(as the infected are known) through the reserved insight of Miss Justneau, her own recollection of the outside world a distant memory.
Her fellow classmates come and go, never to return, with no explanation or even acknowledgement from the teachers. Until the day comes for Melanie to be taken. Strapped to her chair once again, she is led to the myserious door at the end of the corridor and is slowly wheeled up, up, up, and across the open air of the main base headed towards the lab.
Through a drastic turn of events, Miss Justineau attempts to save Melanie from her fate but is cut short. The base is under fire. The Hungries and Junkers, people living outside the safe cities, working together in a never before seen attack.
The breach in security forces Melanie to fight for her life and flee the world she has come to know with the only person whom she trusts and loves, Miss Justineau and a few other begrudging members of the base namely Sergeant Parks, the soldier who was head of operations and Dr. Caldwell, the doctor who had Melanie on the dissection table…
It doesn’t take long for Melanie to discover the truth of what she really is, the gift that she possesses and the fact that it wants her to share her gift with the world.
The story is brilliant at highlighting the straining human relationships in the post apocalyptic world from the soldiers trying to keep their s*** together and Caldwell in particular striving to be the savior of humanity to the Junkers embracing the sudden paradigm shift and adapting to the new world. But it’s also refreshing to see a different point of view on the Hungries and their varying behavioral differences, an interesting change to the usual mindless zombies we see in other novels of the genre. Even more intriguing is the cause behind the Hungry phenomenon. A cause which exists in the real world today and would only need to create a strain to infiltrate the human body to sweep across the world. just let that sink in.
The defining subplot of this story for me has to be the relationship between Melanie and the humans. Despite their obvious differences, Melanie finds solace in Miss Justineau, the one person that trusts her and loves her despite what she is and what shes done and she makes it her mission to protect her like the heroes in the stories she’d read. Sergeant Parks is at first apprehensive, their interaction going against every protocol that had been drilled into him but he eventually grows to like Melanie even if he still keeps his guard up. But Dr. Caldwell was the Judas of this story. She had good intentions but on the surface it was clear to see that humanity and the hungries was too far gone yet she persisted in her obligation to rescue humanity. Even if that meant cutting up children.
But the heart rendering finish is truly spectacular and will leave you incredibly numb.
A zombie refresh worth more than its salt. Deserved of the praise it has received thus far, it’s no surprise that Hollywood has jumped on this gem(set to be released next year) and I can’t wait to see this world humbling story brought to the big screen.
This review was originally posted on: [...]
on 4 February 2015
Ok so I bought this book based on the strength of the tag line: “Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don't like her. She jokes that she won't bite. But they don't laugh”. Sounds like a great story right? Maybe even ‘Haunting & heartbreaking’ like the review says right?
The problem is that this very interesting premise is ditched after the first hundred pages, and instead what we have is this:
"A zombie plague has taken over the world and a brave bunch of 2-dimensional characters must battle their way across Hertfordshire whilst being pursued by clichéd survivalist types and various forms of zombie, for nearly 400 pages."
But if they had put that on the back of the book I doubt it would have sold so well. And what about the claims of haunting & heartbreaking? Sorry, maybe my copy didn’t have those bits. To be fair there are a few of interesting scenes, a couple of which involve being trapped in an attic whilst the zombies mill around with no way to get up there, oddly enough, and the ending is just about worth the wait, but I couldn’t recommend this book to anyone except fans of the genre. I feel a little conned, and as though a great premise has been wasted on an averagely written, average story.
on 26 April 2016
Just think of the best parts from novels like Cormac McCarthy' s The Road, S.king's The Stand, J.Cronin's The Passage or films like Matt Reeves's Let Me In or the American series The Walking Dead, and this novel, The Girl With All The Gifts,in my mind surpasses them all. An epic post- apocalyptic story, terrifying settings, a richly drawn cast , an especially scaringly plausible Melanie , this is a nightmarish dream of a book. So why 4 and not 5 stars? With its 460 pages it is still too short. I never wanted it to end.
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.
on 3 October 2016
I decided to read this after seeing a trailer for the film coming out in the UK later this month. I’m a huge fan of zombies and as you know by now I will literally read anything and everything.
This is a novel told from multiple perspectives that gives a unique view on the zombie apocalypse theme and the aftermath. The main voice in the book is that of Melanie, she seems like an ordinary girl in a strange world of underground living, military figures and other children just like her. It isn’t until a few pages in when you are told the children only eat once a week, are covered in disinfectant and strapped into their chairs that you begin to twig that something isn’t quite right. We learn early on that Melanie and the other children are zombies in a world that has been all but wiped out by a virus that feeds on its host.
The story switches between Melanie’s teacher, Miss Justineau, the military man who keeps them secure on the base, Sergeant Parks and a scientist, Dr Caldwell. There are a few other little snapshots in there too from other perspectives but these with Melanie provide the main four voices..
A break in at their base results in nearly everyone dying, a flood of zombies and forces Parks, Caldwell, Justineau and Melanie to go on the run. They head towards the only human haven left in the UK, a base that has been silent for months while trying to learn more about the virus and survive the zombies they run into. As the book progresses, we encounter emotive situations where we learn how Melanie came to be and why she is not like the other zombies, but what does that mean for the future?
I really enjoyed this book; it was well written, fast paced, filled with action and made me think. The ending was not what I was expecting and that always wins a book brownie points from me. I love the simple design of the cover and I loved the interwoven narratives each with a distinct voice. This is a four star book for me, just because of the range of emotions I felt while reading it and the impact it had on me.