Book Review: The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

9780316278157_custom-4b6f6070cf9d45bd536b496e5b1bd53da6c2e780-s99-c85If you’re going to write a zombie novel these days, you have to give readers something truly new because by this point, if someone is interested in reading a story about zombies, they’ve undoubtedly read all the usual approaches by now. I am happy to say that M. R. Carey has indeed given us a fresh look at zombies in THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS. I’m not going to beat around the bush as some other reviews have and pretend that this is something other than a zombie novel. That’s not a spoiler, simply read the back cover blurbs and you’ll know just what you’re in for. I’d also like to clarify that while this book is credited to “M. R. Carey,” it is written by Mike Carey, prolific author of the Felix Castor supernatural detective series as well as the Lucifer comic/graphic novel series (a spin-off of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman). Carey’s got a great reputation as a wordsmith and world-builder, so I’m not sure why the publisher has resorted to initials here.

Some mild plot spoilers follow, though I promise not to ruin the book for you.

Melanie is a very smart, precocious girl forcibly enrolled in a special school that is as much a maximum-security prison as it is a place of learning. The world outside the school is a post-apocalyptic Britain, with the survivors trying desperately to find a cure for the disease that has brought down civilization. I don’t want to say too much about the nature of the disease that brought down civilization, except to say that it is interesting and nuanced, and provides good scope for the story. Again, I don’t want to offer too many spoilers, but Melanie, her favorite teacher, and a couple soldiers are forced to leave the fragile outpost of a heavily militarized civilization in which they have been living and travel through a ruined Britain, giving the reader the opportunity to learn what’s going on along with the protagonists.

The zombies of THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS offer a nice, logical mix of shamblers, sprinters, and more enigmatic sorts, making their nature unpredictable and part of the novel’s mystery for unraveling. I was also pleasantly reminded of David Gerrold’s excellent (though still uncompleted after all these years) War Against the Chtorr series in which an alien – and highly lethal – ecosystem is gradually replacing our own.

Carey’s writing is very clear and eminently readable; this was the longest piece of fiction I’ve read by Carey (I’ve loved several of his stories collected in various anthologies) and his prose remains as fine as ever. Characterization, dialogue, plot, and action sequences are all very well done. I am happy to say that action and combat are strengths for Carey.

I can’t quite decide if THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS is a young adult novel or not, or if that’s even a meaningful genre distinction (aren’t YA novels mainly read by adults anyway?), and frankly, it doesn’t matter either way. This was a very fast, enjoyable read. Hard to put down. Highly recommended. The book was adapted for the big screen in September 2016, though I have not yet seen the film.

Buy the book on Amazon

Review copyright © 2017 J. Andrew Byers

I’m Back! and 2016 in Review

After a very long hiatus, I plan to resume my book reviews and other posts about books and all things bookish. Sadly, I have been mostly consumed with work and writing things I haven’t really enjoyed but were professionally necessary the last couple years. Life is too short to continue with that indefinitely though, so I will be getting back to reading and writing about the stuff I enjoy. Expect the first of a new batch of reviews within the next week.

Year in Review:

I read 111 books total in 2016. That’s an average of 9.25 books per month, though the actual range varied from a low of 2 in June to a high of 21 in August. Of those, 92 were fiction and 19 were non-fiction. Of the fiction books I read, a whopping 19 of them were role-playing game-related books (RPGs are a big hobby of mine) and 14 were graphic novels (usually trade paperback collections of comics). 26 of the books I read in 2016 (23%) were actually rereads, in that I had read them at least once previously. That’s kind of nuts, given that I own so many books I haven’t read, but I ended up reading all of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s John Carter of Mars books and the first five Tarzan novels, which artificially boosted my numbers. I owned paper copies of all the books I read except for 8 that I only owned in eBook editions, though I actually read a number of the books I do own in paper copies on my Kindle (e.g., all the Burroughs books). 16 of the books were actually library books that I don’t own a copy of.

I consider about 14 of the books I read to be “Best of” books—ones that were obviously my favorite books of those I read this year and ones I will likely return to at some point in the future (note that 7 of the 14 were actually rereads). Here is the list of the best books I read in 2016 in no particular order:

• Two of the John Carter of Mars books (my favorites of the series): Synthetic Men of Mars and A Princess of Mars
• John C. Wright’s The Golden Age (a really interesting SF novel of a transhuman, mostly post-scarcity society)
• The Harry Bosch Novels, Vols. 2 and 3 (two omnibus editions of books 4-9 from the series)
• Two of the Revelation Space books: Revelation Space and Redemption Ark
Batman, Vol. 1: The Court of Owls (graphic novel)
A Century of Spies (the only non-fiction book to appear here; sadly, I read most non-fiction because I have to, not necessarily because I want to)
The House with a Clock in Its Walls (a childhood favorite, though Bellairs’ sequels have never quite lived up to the charm of this first one)
On Her Majesty’s Occult Service (omnibus of the first two books in Charles Stross’ Laundry series)
• Three of Karl Edward Wagner’s Kane series: Death Angel’s Shadow, Bloodstone, and Dark Crusade

As far as my reading goals for 2017 go, the total number of books read last year wasn’t bad, though I’d like to hit 120 books, which would be a very solid 10 books per month. The balance of fiction to non-fiction seems about right to me, as does the number of RPG books and graphic novels. I’d like to reread slightly fewer books because I own so many books that have never had even a single read.

In any case, happy new year to all of my dear readers! Look for my new reviews soon.