Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

Ah, the zombie apocalypse. It's become familiar territory across all forms of media. The Girl with All the Gifts has plenty in common with its zombie-filled cousin worlds, but there's enough uniqueness to keep things interesting.
Technically, you don't learn that there are zombies in The Girl with All the Gifts until about 10% of the way in, but it's not much of a spoiler. The initial scenario of children held by the military in a sealed compound, with constant restraints and almost no freedom of movement, makes it pretty obvious that something terrible is going on. It's not long before the reader learns that infected "hungries" (a zombie by any other name...) roam the wasteland of future Britain outside, while inside the compound research is ongoing to fight the plague.

Unlike many post-zombie-apocalypse novels, this one goes into some level of detail in describing what's actually causing the outbreak. There's quite a bit of technical discussion of a fungus that infects the afflicted, and how it takes over their brain and nervous system. I have no idea how accurate any of the details are, but it sounds believable enough to my layman understanding. No one ever figures out what exactly created the fungus in the first place, but that's not really important to this story.

The title character in The Girl with All the Gifts is Melanie, a pre-teen girl who is infected with the fungus but can still act normally. She and the other children are being studied in hopes of finding a cure for the world at large. Much of the book is about how Melanie grows from an isolated, sheltered prisoner into a strong individual. That process takes place on a perilous journey across a ruined English landscape after the research compound is destroyed.

There are four other key characters, all uninfected humans, who share that journey. The group feels fairly stereotypical - grizzled veteran, inexperienced young soldier, research-obsessed scientist, and soft-hearted teacher. But there's enough depth to each character to keep them from being completely one-dimensional. This is accomplished in large part due to the way that the writer shifts perspectives through each character (including Melanie), which gives the reader a chance to see the world from each of their perspectives. I felt like I had a better understanding of each character, and their relationships, using this approach than if a single viewpoint had been used throughout.

There's some explicit language and graphic violence in The Girl with All the Gifts, but not very much considering the subject matter. Some of the descriptions of the infected are fairly disturbing, and there are a number of bloody scenes along the way. That's par for the course with this kind of post-apocalyptic writing, and I don't feel like any of it was unnecessarily overdone.

I thought The Girl with All the Gifts took place in an interesting world, and the story moved along nicely enough to keep me entertained. Not for the squeamish, but what zombie apocalypse story is?

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