Review by Tony Jones
“A surprise return to the world of ‘The Girl with all the Gifts’”
In 2014 M R Carey (who also writes under Mike Carey) released ‘The Girl with all the Gifts’ which was a surprise word of mouth hit in both the horror world and beyond, a film followed last year. The 2014 novel was both a clever and original riff on the apocalyptic zombie story and I can’t say I ever expected a follow-up…… However, ‘The Boy on the Bridge’ isn’t really a sequel and the events take place round about the same time as the earlier novel. So you could easily read this novel without having read the other, but the problem is this new book is simply not in the same class as its predecessor.
One wonders whether Carey really fancied this book or whether publisher pushed for it? Whichever the answer is, it lacks the originality, freshness and pacing of the original. Equally important, it does not substantially develop the story that much. The premise is a re-tread: a group of scientists and military personal are looking for the cure to ‘Cordyceps’ (the zombie type infection which has destroyed humanity). They did this in the previous book by venturing into the ruined cities in a tank like scientific laboratory and they do the same sort of thing here, except this time they head to Scotland.
So the plot of ‘The Boy on the Bridge’ was deeply disappointing, it was also pretty pedestrian. It was far too easy to make comparisons to the earlier novel, with everything paling in comparison here. The group of scientists and military personal who head to Scotland looking for samples were a pretty dull bunch and I really didn’t care too much what happened to any of them. This just wasn’t the case in ‘The Girl with all the Gifts’ where the character’s sucked me in and their deaths meant something.
In this novel he zombie type creatures are known as ‘Hungries’ and they don’t especially have a huge role in this book. When they are not feeding they go into a dormant state where they stand stock-still until they smell or sense their next meal. Samrina Khan is the top scientist on the expedition, and probably the most interesting character, as she carries out experiments to find a cure. Eventually they discover on a new strand of ‘Hungry’ which seem to have retained certain humanistic characteristics. If you’ve read ‘The Girl with all the Gifts’ you’ll be familiar with these types of ‘hungry children’ and they featured in most of the better scenes in this novel.
The bottom line was that ‘The Boy on the Bridge’ lacked a powerful central character like ‘Melanie’ from the previous book. Melanie was a terrific character. A little girl who did not initially know she was a Hungry and helped the scientists survive. She was a one-in-a-million character and ‘The Boy on the Bridge’ really lacks her presence. Carey tries to compensate by giving us ‘Simon Greaves’ in this new book, a young man, who although he has no scientific training is a genius with science, but is also somewhere on the Autism spectrum. We find out it was he who created the blocker which disguises the smell of humans to the Hungries and he has been involved in other scientific advances. Like Melanie, he ventures out on his own, has a strong connection with Samrina Khan, however, ultimately as characters go he was pretty unengaging. And characters on the autistic spectrum have been done to death in recent years…..
If you’re a fan of ‘Girl with all the Gifts’ by all means give this a try, although Carey writes a beautiful and literary sentence a return to this world really deserved something better than this. Perhaps a straight sequel might have worked better? Having said that it does have a truly terrific epilogue which fans of the earlier book will love. So if you do start it, make sure you finish it.
Some books work best as standalone novels, maybe ‘The Girl with all the Gifts’ should have been one. Since that book came out in 2014 Carey then wrote a terrific ghost story called ‘Fellside’ which I also reviewed for GNoH and was brimming with good ideas and great writing so he certainly is not a one trick pony. So I hope for his next book he returns with something completely new.
Once upon a time, in a land blighted by terror, there was a very clever boy.
The people thought the boy could save them, so they opened their gates and sent him out into the world.
To where the monsters lived.
In The Boy on the Bridge M. R. Carey returns to the world of The Girl With All the Gifts, the phenomenal word-of-mouth bestseller which is now a critically acclaimed film starring Sennia Nanua, Glenn Close, Gemma Arterton and Paddy Considine.