Written by: M.R. Carey
Paperback: 460 pages
Melanie is a very special girl. Dr. Caldwell calls her "our little genius."
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.
Melanie loves school. She loves learning about spelling and sums and the world outside the classroom and the children's cells. She tells her favorite teacher all the things she'll do when she grows up. Melanie doesn't know why this makes Miss Justineau look sad.
While Mike Carey’s book came out over a year ago and I bought it almost immediately, it took me this long to finally read it. Now, brief disclaimer, I love Mike Carey. He is amazing writer and I have both loved his comic runs with Lucifer, Hellblazer, and The Unwritten. I also enjoy his Felix Castor series, which you should all read or at least listen to the audiobook version of because it is utterly fantastic. But something stopped me from reading this book right away, though I am not quite sure why. I read the first couple of chapters and then put it down. This was not because it was slow and unengaging. I think sometimes I put away a really good book until I know I need it. I had no question that I was going to love this book. I love Carey’s writing. But I keep certain books on my shelf for when I need a good escape. The kind of escape that grabs you for a full afternoon and you devour a world and its characters. This was one of those books. And I needed it.
Melanie is a strange little girl. She is highly intelligent, with pale skin, and eyes and ears that take in everything. Every day she is strapped to her chair, taken to class, and then back to her cell. Its class that she loves the most, especially when Miss Justineau teaches. Miss Justineau tells her stories about Pandora and sometimes brings in things from outside. She answers their questions and asks their opinions. These days are her favorite. Some day she hopes to go to Beacon with Miss Justineau and the other children, a romantic vision of the future. But then things change.
Melanie knows she is different than her other classmates, but she doesn’t know how different until now. Melanie is becoming aware. And one day the entire world will change for her and everyone around her.
Things I liked: Let me start this review by saying I love zombies. Because they are tools to tell a real story when done right. The Girl With All of the Gifts is like this. While the word zombie is never used in this book, it didn’t need to be. It is quite clear from the very beginning and the way it is used is quite human and beautiful. Which is why I absolutely loved this book. While we begin the book completely confused as to why an intelligent little girl is strapped to her chair every morning to go to class, the clues are there and suddenly everything makes sense: the terrified soldiers, the showers, the fact that Melanie only eats once a week and her meal consists of grubs, and the odd behavior of some of her other classmates. Melanie knows she is different, but not truly how different and her journey of self-discovery is great. As a reader we know she is a hungry though not the mindless sort. Melanie can learn; she is a genius in fact. Melanie can grow. Melanie wants more and I want more for her. She has this beautiful romantic vision, no bitterness, just hope. She doesn’t know that she is a hungry, that she is one of the monsters. She didn’t realize just how different she was until now.
What I love about this zombie apocalypse is that it has already happened. The book is not spent on the first wave of infection or even the fifth. What it does focus on is life after the apocalypse and more importantly finding a cure for the infection. Imagine a world where the hungries decimated the population, suddenly a decade after the fall children are found who are infected. But they are intelligent…something is different. Of course there are later scenes in the book which continue this intelligent hungry which was very reminiscent of Romero’s Land of the Dead which I enjoyed for these aspects.
So let’s delve into the hungries. Loved, loved, them. Very similar to one of my favorite videogames The Last Of Us or even the X-Files episode Firewalker, the hungries came about from a parasitic fungus. This fungus is none other than Ophiocordyceps unilateralis which might sound familiar. This the parasite behind zombie ants. The novel explains it just as David Attenborough once did, that the parasite attacks the ant, forces it to climb to the highest branch and then the sporangium kills its host, explodes out of the ants head, and spreads its spores for another generation. Except, this version of the fungus has infected humans who, now as hungries, only want to infect and spread the fungus even further. I love this version of a zombie. Seriously loved it. Cinematically I can see it work on so many levels.
So let’s discuss characters. I love Melanie the way that she loves Helen because let’s face it this is a love story about a little girl and her teacher, who is also her hero and a mother figure. Miss Justineau is a Wendy of sorts teaching Melanie and the lost children about what life was once like, what it could be again. She gives Melanie hope and hope is at the center of the Pandora myth. Beyond that Miss Justineau is aware of Melanie’s romanticism of the world and of her crush. She tries so hard not to destroy that, to keep her innocent and full of ideals. I love that.
All of this makes this story so human and so personal. I can relate. I know what it is like to view the world through rose colored glasses, to try and maintain that hope when you realize the world is not as rosy as you want it to be. I was also a big fan of mythology due to my parents who told me the origins of the constellations. I grew up with Pandora and Orpheus (I modeled my childhood bedroom after watching Clash of the Titans far too many times).
Back to Melanie. Though there are chapters from some of the other character’s viewpoints, this book is mostly Melanie’s narrative. It begins with Melanie looking at the world with childish innocence and ends with Melanie making some very adult choices. By the end of the novel she knows her place, understands the world in ways she never knew before, and her self-discovery is amazing.
The other characters are not as strong as Melanie or even Miss Justineau (who has her own motives, backstory and character growth). They are your usual tropes. You have Sergeant Parks who is scarred, gruff, and yay military. There is the naïve young soldier, Gallagher, who wants to impress previously mentioned military figure. Finally, you have Dr. Caldwell, the doctor who is willing to cut open little children for the sake of Science. And yet I still like each of them. For Dr. Caldwell, it’s not that I like her or that I am Team Caldwell, but I can get her. She is the character I enjoy hating. I enjoy the discussion she forces and the questions she poses. Can you put aside your morality and see these children as lab subjects, a way to cure the infection for all no matter what the cost? Is it okay to cut into a child’s skull even when these children can think and feel and speak? Is she driven by Science and the quest to understand what she sees as a puzzle or is she driven by pure self-preservation and not wanting the human race to be driven to absolute extinction? I also like Caldwell because she is flawed. She’s bitchy because she wasn’t chosen for the first round of awesome scientists. She goes on power trips. She sees the children in a completely different way than others. For example she doesn’t think that Melanie or the children and their attempts at emotional connection and growth are because they are ‘real’ children, but because the fungus has evolved and found new ways of spreading itself. I guess what I really loved was that being human doesn’t make you one of the good guys.
The world building in this book is one that I could see as plausible. While there are times the science is a little question-y, overall I had no problem suspending any disbelief. There is dread that evolves throughout the story, a pacing that is quick without being breakneck, and a finale that left me satisfied. Oh so satisfied. In fact, I don’t think it could have ended any other way.
Things I didn’t like so much: Sometimes the book falls into some familiar and overdone tropes (the group in peril) and then it pulls itself back up into what feels like new territory. Sometimes the narrative with other characters starts to stall, but again it picks itself back up and I push those little nitpicks aside. So yeah, I pretty much have nothing here. This has been, by far, one of the best books I have read in the past six months.
Buy or Borrow: Buy. Please buy.
Part of: Standalone. Novel form of the short story Iphigenia in Aulis
Also Recommended: For more lovely zombie goodness I recommend The Reapers are the Angels by Alden Bell, The Walking Dead comic series by Robert Kirkman, The Passage by Justin Cronin, Feed by Mira Grant, The Rot and Ruin series by Jonathan Mayberry, and World War Z by Max Brooks
4 out of 4 happy bibliosnark bookmarks