I was blown away by The Girl With All the Gifts – indeed it was one of my Outstanding Books of 2015. Would I enjoy this one as much?
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.
If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading The Girl With All the Gifts and yet you’ve picked this offering up, don’t worry about it. You don’t need to read The Girl With All the Gifts to appreciate The Boy on the Bridge because in reality, the only real connection between them is that they are set in the same world, where a fungal plague has infected humanity, turning the majority of the population into zombies, or hungries, as they are called. The last enclave in the south of England mounts a scientific expedition to retrieve stored specimens that have been cached throughout the length of the country right up into Scotland, using a formidably armoured motorised vehicle – part-tank, part-laboratory – which will take best part of the year. The small elite scientific team is led by Dr Fournier, while the military detail assigned to keep them safe is commanded by Captain Carlisle. These two men loathe and distrust one another and their mutual hostility isn’t helping the success of this vital mission.
The story unfolds in multiple viewpoint, with the two main protagonists being Rina, a young, brilliant scientist who several years ago discovered a traumatised boy and took him under her wing, and Stephen Greaves, now a teenager on the autistic spectrum. One of the reasons why this mission is even possible is due to an invention of Greaves, the e-blocker that stops the hungries being able to smell humans. They are all looking for a mutated strain of the fungal plague which would allow them to find an antidote. This is the story of that mission.
I’ll be honest, I had to take two goes at this book. This genre isn’t my go-to choice if I’m not at my shiny best and right now I’m definitely not at my shiny best. There was a cascade of events that quickly snowballed into something dark and apparently unavoidable, and the very quality of the writing and the harsh reality of Carey’s excellent scene setting only managed to make the whole situation even grimmer. I had toyed with the idea of not finishing this one – not because it wasn’t brilliantly written, but simply because the situation seemed poignantly, desperately sad.
In the event, I’m glad that I got over myself and completed it, because that epilogue was a real jaw-dropper. Whatever I was expecting, it wasn’t that. I didn’t enjoy this one quite as much as The Girl With All the Gifts, chiefly because no one snagged my sympathy in the way that poor little Melanie did. While I very much liked Stephen, there were too many times when I also found his reasoning too alien. I shan’t be forgetting this story, this world and the outcome for a very long time. Carey writes with power and an unflinching ability to dig into our vulnerabilities and make us really think about what it is to be human. Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys apocalyptic adventures.