The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey
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.
Zombie-lit has never been my thing. The moaning, shuffling undead, hellbent on chewing the flesh of a group of protagonists who are mostly armed and ready to send them from dead, to completely dead. Throw in a couple of character development points, probably a couple of them falling in love, and we have ourselves a novel. No thanks.
I didn’t know this was a zombie novel until I was pretty far in. It was a blessing, but this is one novel I am finding very tricky to review.
Britain has been infected, and Melanie is a child born after the Breakdown. She lives in a cell in a military base, and is transported to her classroom each morning by wheelchair, shackled, muzzled, and restrained. She isn’t clear on why she’s in this situation, but she loves learning, and loves her teacher. Melanie is infected, but she has still retained her intellect, her humanity, and her capacity for love. Her hunger is triggered by the smell of flesh, and with the measures taken by the staff at the base, she never feels it. Until the base is attacked and Melanie escapes alongside he teacher, a sergeant, and a doctor.
Melanie becomes the only hope for a cure. Literally none of the group travelling with her have any particular desire to keep her alive, apart from the teacher who isn’t willing to sacrifice her due to personal feelings of guilt over an incident in the past. Lady, let the doc slice her brain open, let’s cure the country and go back to sitting comfortably at home watching X Factor rather than running across the barren metropolis as zombie bait.
The book is essentially a commentary on humanity, what makes us human, and the blurred lines between what is good and what is evil. Melanie is torn between her human thoughts and feelings and her survival instinct to feast on those she has escaped with, and who are keeping her safe.
Carey spends time giving us back stories to each of the characters, helping us understand where they’ve come from, and their motivations. These stories also give us a good grasp on what happened to the country at infection, and how the government handled this going forwards. Despite the stories, I felt the characters blended into each other by having similar dialogue. I found it difficult to understand who was talking, and I would have appreciated some more differentiation.
There’s loads of action in here, plenty of tension, and the suspense killed me in places. But I didn’t love it. I don’t even know if I liked it. All I know is that if you asked me to read another zombie novel, I’d be asking you what option two would be.