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The Girl With All The Gifts by M. R. Carey

The Girl With All The Gifts by M. R. Carey
4
Book Name: The Girl With All The Gifts
Author: M. R. Carey
Publisher(s): Orbit
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / eBook
Genre(s): Science Fiction / Horror / Zombie
Release Date: June 10, 2014 (US) January 14, 2014 (UK)

If you’ve always wanted your zombie hordes flavored with fungus, then The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey was written for you.

Those who devour science articles will be well versed in the fungus that turns ants into zombies. The infected ants will stumble back to the colony, die, then bloom a terrifyingly exquisite fruiting body, ripe with death spores. In the post-apocalyptic world of The Girl With All The Gifts that delightfully devious fungus has evolved (or been engineered) to grapple with humans. The mild-mannered masses turn into hungries, brain-dead “fast zombies” that the fungus triggers to go berserk when it detects a nearby human.

Except not all hungries lose their minds. A girl, Melanie commands savant-level intelligence, a predilection for Greek mythology, and a ravenous hunger for human flesh that’s barely suppressed by chemical baths. She cheerfully shouts good morning to the scientists who walk past the reinforced door of her cell. Soldiers convey her to her classroom strapped to a wheelchair. Every week she eats just one bowl of grubs. (The fungus improves her metabolism.) It’s gross, but she’s never known another way.

M.R. Carey does a superb job portraying her isolation. When her favorite teacher, Miss Justineau, brings in flowers and a tree branch, the students don’t recognize either. The maximum-security zombie school is part of a desperate program to study how the children developed partial immunity to the fungus, enough to retain their minds.

The head scientist, the Doctor, was once excluded from the dream team of researchers seeking the cure for the fungal Armageddon. Well, that super team was all eaten, and now developing the vaccine is up to her. “In an age of rust, she is stainless steel.” Her laboratory is suitably terrifying, full of jars of suspended body parts, with growing mold for that touch of color. In a zombie attack, she fights off the hungries with her bare hands. Now as the infection creeps up her arms, she has only her willpower to claw her way into immortality through scientific acclaim.

The chapters from the Doctor’s perspective are mildly technical, and it’s possible that those without a taste for science would be tempted to skip them. The present-tense narrative changes through five perspectives. The author, M.R. Carey is more concerned with punchy and artful sentences than displaying viscera feasts. Going into The Girl With All The Gifts, I knew M.R. Carey only through his work in the Lucifer graphic novels. This book continues a tradition of powerful characters with tormented pasts, surrounded with evocative visuals.

The Girl With All The Gifts (detail)The author delivers what we all want, an abandoned children’s hospital full of echoing despair and discarded picture books. For additional spookiness, some hungries retain vestiges of their former selves, muttering children’s rhymes, or pushing around a baby carriage. I won’t spoil what it was, but I loved the epic scene of the zombie graveyard, where the hungries go to die. Again, sort of. And for that extra zombie panache: autocannibalism.

My favorite character was the Sergeant. This scarred survivalist was charged by the Doctor to find the sentient hungries, “Like she was ordering fast food.” She approves of the Sergeant’s efficiency, except for his insistence on shooting hungries in the head, obliterating potential test results. The Sergeant believes “a little overkill never hurts.”

He hates babysitting the killer beasts who look like children. Their innocent humanity is just another lure to let his guard down. He tries to frighten the facility’s teachers into understanding the dangers. In doing so he alienates a woman who he sees as a little bit of all right, Miss Justineau.

Miss Justineau is forced to select which of her students go to die, sacrificed to the Doctor’s operating table. It won’t be the first time Miss Justineau is responsible for killing a child. Guilt frays her sanity. She swears to keep Melanie safe, a dangerous prospect when hugging the girl triggers her kill-eat-devour reflex.

When the heroes encounter the hungries, the man-eaters run straight past Melanie. The realization that she’s one of them terrifies her. She thinks of her fellow zombies as not like her but more akin to “empty houses where people used to live.” No, worse than that, these houses are haunted. On the upside, Melanie salvages some unicorn-patch pants and a pink aviator jacket, so life isn’t all bad. Just mostly.

In a world ravaged by undead hordes, danger isn’t in short supply. Even so, it’s the mistakes made by the heroes that puts them into peril. Or perhaps they aren’t mistakes, precisely, but they feel like them. Travelling cross country, the Sergeant is faced with the choice of sneaking through the mausoleum metropolis of London or taking a long detour around. They’re short on food, and adding extra miles might kill them. However, since this alternative isn’t seen by the reader, and the terrors of going through the zombie city are made gruesomely obvious, it feels like the heroes ask to be eaten.

Not that I have anything against a city crawling with spore-salivating not-humans. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m needed in my underground laboratory. This dinosaur army won’t equip itself with lasers.

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Rating: 10.0/10 (6 votes cast)
The Girl With All The Gifts by M. R. Carey, 10.0 out of 10 based on 6 ratings
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2 Comments

  1. Davieboy says:

    I’ve just finished the audiobook – here’s my Audible review…

    “Leaves you “hungry” for more….”

    Never having heard of the book or the author before it was a completely spontaneous decision to download this audiobook, based on Audible reviews. I’m very glad I did, it was a lot of fun!

    An excellent story based around an interesting concept that subverts normal expectations. Excellently read by Finty Williams (I was interested enough to look her up and discovered she’s the daughter of Judi Dench).

    If you liked World War Z, or read Stephen King, I commend this book to you. Will certainly look out for more from M.R. Carey. For me it was a welcome change of pace from multi-book epic fantasy series. It came to a very satisfying and apt resolution; I hope there are no follow-ups though – sometimes it’s good to be left hungry….

    • Overlord says:

      The cover really put me off this one… the title too: it reminded me a lot of those books about child abuse.

      Having read this review and your comments I shall add it to the TBR list 🙂

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