**WARNING!** This review does contain spoilers, so if you don’t want to know what The Girl With All The Gifts is about DON’T READ ON. But I would say it’s a fantastic book and you should definitely read it.
OK now that the people who don’t know what this book is about have gone, I can say that this is a Zombie book. ZOMBIE. There I said it. But the first thing to say is that this is a Zombie book with a difference . . . Most obviously because the author completely avoids using the Z word at all. Melanie seems like a pretty normal young girl. She loves reading and learning in lessons with her favourite teacher Miss Justineau. But Melanie is not pretty normal. Every morning she is strapped to a chair and has a muzzle placed over her mouth, and the other children at her school keep disappearing after appointments with Doctor Caldwell . . .
I don’t claim to be an expert on the Zombie genre, but I can safely say what is so unusual about this novel is that it shows the human side of the Zombies themselves. The main character Melanie is ostensibly a normal little girl who is extremely intelligent, goes to school and rocks a solid pink unicorn jean – until you wave your delicious arm in front of her face and she tries to gnaw it off. Despite her bitey tendencies, you find yourself falling totally in love with this strange, undead little girl. Her curiosity and increasing self-awareness of what she is capable of make her an interesting and endearing character, and one you find yourself rooting for despite her desire for human flesh.
At the centre of the novel is Melanie’s relationship with her teacher, Miss Justineau. Their friendship is beautifully portrayed, emphasising with great poignancy Melanie’s isolation as a young child who has never had a family. The strength of their bond is brought out in extremely touching moments of bodily contact, such as when Miss Justineau stroking Melanie’s hair causes such elation that she overcomes her need to consume human flesh. Miss Justineau’s refusal to treat Melanie as a monster meets its opposition in the character of Caroline Caldwell, the scientist who regularly carves into Melanie’s friends to see what’s going on inside their heads, and can’t wait to get her hands on Melanie. Caldwell is a horribly fascinating character, whose fanaticism for her own scientific cause (or is it for her own fame?) completely takes over her life and sense of decency. Whether she’s hacking into a child’s head without anaesthetic because the subject is “already dead” or cutting a child in half with an automatic door, her gruesome acts are on a par with the most bloody of Melanie’s feeding frenzies.
This is a wonderfully and unexpectedly sensitive novel which completely turns everything you previously thought about the Zombie genre on its head. M.R. Carey creates a cast of characters who seem completely real and human, including (and perhaps above all) the undead Zombie girl Melanie and it is their struggle that underpins the whole of the novel. This novel explores the devastation and isolation of a world destroyed, but at the heart of it is a group of lonely people’s need for love and affection.
‘M. R. Carey’ is, of course, a pseudonym (of almost Banksian impenetrability) for Mike Carey, the acclaimed author of the Felix Castor paranormal thrillers, published by Orbit, and of numerous highly-lauded comics series – most recently the New York Times bestselling THE UNWRITTEN from DC Vertigo. All of which are, you won’t be surprised to learn, excellent. And we’re lucky enough to have a couple of his books on our list, too – co-written with his wife, Linda, and his daughter, Louise.
THE CITY OF SILK AND STEEL is a wonderful Thousand-and-One-Nights-style book about the rise and fall of a mythical desert city and THE HOUSE OF WAR AND WITNESS, Mike, Lin & Lou’s latest novel is an atmospheric and compelling mix of ghost story, mystery, historical and . . . something else; we can’t tell you without spoiling it, but the impeccably-credentialed SFX magazine called it “a twisty, gripping, atmospheric tale … well-paced, absorbing, and intricately put together”.