Published by Orbit on 10 June 2014The Girl With All the Gifts is a groundbreaking thriller, emotionally charged and gripping from beginning to end.Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class.When they come for her, Sergeant 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.Melanie is a very special girl.
Genres: Horror, Post-Apocalyptic, Speculative Fiction
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I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book nor the content of my review.
As I started reading this, it seemed very familiar. Like, creepy déjà vu familiar, so I went poking around and found out that The Girl With All The Gifts is an expanded version of Mike Carey’s short story “Iphigenia in Aulis,” which I must have read at some point.
But déjà vu aside, I was super excited to read a new book by Mike Carey, writing here as M. R. Carey. I’d read the first three books in his Felix Castor series years ago and really loved his prose, and I’m also a fan of his writing on the X-Men comics. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from The Girl With All The Gifts based on the very vague summary, but I was on board right away.
The beginning of the novel is nearly as vague as the summary, keeping you in the dark about what’s really going on while dropping hints both subtle and unsubtle that things are not right in Melanie’s world. The chapters told from Melanie’s point of view are the most vague, since she herself knows very little about what’s going on other than what she’s taught in her classes. In later chapters, we switch into three other characters’ points of view: Miss Justineau, Sargeant Parks, and Dr. Caldwell. These adults obviously know a lot more about what’s going on than Melanie, but Carey writes their chapters in such a way that they never overtly reveal what’s happened until Carey is absolutely ready for it. Their oblique hints, though, give you as the reader some pretty horrible ideas, and I love novels where you figure out what’s going on before the characters. It adds a wonderful sense of dread as you wait for the character to make those connections and understand what’s going on.
Since Melanie is a little girl, that sense of dread was even greater for me than if she’d been an adult. I figured out what she is pretty early on in the story (I had read the short story before, but it had been so long that I really didn’t remember the twist), and waiting for her brilliant little mind to put the facts together was excruciating. I knew she needed to figure it out so they could survive, but at the same time, like Miss Justineau, I wanted to be able to preserve her sense of innocence.
Nobody’s good or bad in this story. Each character has flaws and strengths that move the story along, and it makes for an excellent read. Once the plot really started moving, about a third of the way into the novel, I was sucked in and had a hard time putting the book down to do things that I had to do, like cook dinner and go to bed.
This review is turning out to be just as vague as the novel, but I’m desperately trying to avoid spoilers. I think this is a book best read without prior knowledge of the plot twists and big reveals. I do want to talk about one major plot point, though, and I’ll do it under spoiler tags. Click at your own risk!View Spoiler »This is a zombie novel, and there have been fifty kajillion of those lately. I’ve read a few that I like (mostly those written by Mira Grant), but in general I’m not really into zombies. Carey’s zombies are much like those in the video game The Last of Us: the disease is caused by a mutated cordyceps fungus. If you’ve seen the David Attenborough documentary about the zombie ants, that’s what this is. It’s a type of fungus that infects humans and basically turns them into flesh eating machines; when they smell human pheromones, they go into a feeding frenzy and will chase until they can eat their prey, and when they’re not chasing, they basically shut down. I haven’t had a chance to play The Last of Us yet, so I can’t speak to how similar Carey’s fungus zombies are to the ones in the game, but I do think it’s an interesting twist on the zombie infection storyline.
But the zombies are more than just the horror element. Like a good zombie story should be, The Girl With All The Gifts uses zombies to explore the concept of humanity itself. Do we count the infected as a complete loss? Are they no longer human? How do children like Melanie, who are infected but retain consciousness, fit into this dichotomy of Us vs Them? « Hide Spoiler
If you’re a fan of a good, creepy horror novel, I’d recommend giving The Girl With All The Gifts a try. The creeping sense of horror that grows with each chapter is really effective, and Carey’s writing style is frankly a gift. I love his novels.