BOOK REVIEW: The Boy on the Bridge by M.R. Carey

BOOK REVIEW: The Boy on the Bridge by M.R. Carey

Orbit
May 2017
Paperback, $29.99
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell

Speculative Fiction

8/10

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.

In The Boy on the Bridge, M. R. Carey returns to the world of The Girl With All the Gifts, the phenomenal word-of-mouth bestseller which is now a critically acclaimed film starring Sennia Nanua, Glenn Close, Gemma Arterton and Paddy Considine.

The Girl With All The Gifts has been on my best of the year lists for two years running, for the physical book and the audiobook respectively, so words are incapable of describing how much I was anticipating this new book. And it does not disappoint.

The book, and this review, will likely have some spoilers for those who haven’t read M. R. Carey’s word-of-mouth hit The Girl With All The Gifts.

The Boy on the Bridge is actually a prequel, and it follows the events that led to the Rosalind Franklin, the mobile, armoured lab, being left where the crew of The Girl With All The Gifts would discover it a decade later, but you should read The Girl With All The Gifts first, if you haven’t already!

The Girl With All The Gifts is the story of a world gone mad, in which a virus spread out of control, turning all those infected into “Hungries”, Carey’s new take on zombies. These zombies need little protein, exist in a state of perpetual waiting and reacting to outside sources and potential food, and there’s something in the virus that makes them want to spread it to as many people as they can.

But there does seem to be an anomaly in that there are children who are hungries but also able to learn and speak and interact, so long as they don’t smell human flesh. Melanie is one of these children, who was rounded up by the army and brought in for testing. Her life is ruled by routine, until one day everything changes.

An attack on the compound forces Melanie; her favourite teacher Miss Justineau; Dr Caldwell, the scientist who has been cutting open the heads of Melanie’s classmates; Sergeant Parks and Private Gallagher, to flee together on a journey that is going to change the world.

Along the way they discover the Rosalind Franklin, or Rosie, the second of two mobile labs that were sent out ten years earlier to obtain specimens that might change the way they view the virus, might lead them to a cure, but were never heard from again.

 

Until now readers, along with the cast of The Girl With All The Gifts, could only speculate as to what happened, and none of it was good. Now we’re finally privy to what went on decades before the story that has captured the attention of readers and now moviegoers the world over (so long as they don’t live in Australia, for some reason. Why no movie in Australia, you guys?!).

The team assembled here is a lot more structured than the one that escaped a nightmare situation in the previous book. Rosie is able to carry twelve, and within those chosen are six scientists and six military personnel, but within the group there are certain tensions, bound to make the journey rocky enough to be felt by all, even within the protected, armoured safety of the Rosalind Franklin. Perhaps especially in these tight quarters.

Within this team, we have the following highly-memorable characters and issues:

  • Samrina “Rina” Khan is pregnant, which is most certainly against the rules of the mission. Her baby daddy is one of the other scientists.
  • Dr Alan Fournier, the leader of the scientific and civilian side of the mission is insisting she reveal the identity of the father.
  • No one can stand Dr Fournier, as he seems set to be antagonistic, just to prove that he has the overall command of the mission. He’s in a constant battle with Colonel Carlisle for the respect of the team.
  • Colonel Isaac Carlisle has always been a man to follow orders, including the firebombing of citizens expecting help, back in the days of the original outbreak
  • Lieutenant Daniel McQueen resents the man to whom he is second-in-command.
  • Stephen Greaves is the youngest of the crew at fifteen, but he’s also the inventor of the eblocker, and he could just be the one with the right tools to find a cure. He’s also on the spectrum, doesn’t like being touched or making eye contact, and has a hard time reading people. The military members of the crew call him the Robot.

Rina and Stephen are essentially family, and the’re the focus characters for a large chunks of this book. Stephen disconnection from people being what it is, this is a less emotional book than TGWATG, but Rina acts as something of a point of connection for him. Even as he struggles to feel many emotions, and even as he sees everything in calculations, his determination to do whatever he can to save her shows that he’s not as far out of reach as the rest of the team might think.

He set out to school the Robot and got schooled himself. That is pretty funny, any way you look at it.
Everything is a lesson. This one is about not judging by appearances. Just because the kid has a face as empty as a bucket with a hole in it doesn’t mean he’s stupid. And just because he creeps around like a whipped puppy doesn’t mean he’s got no spirit.
Everyone is special, right?

The concept of the hungry children, as introduced in TGWATG, is a fascinating one, and in this book we see less in the way of hungry chases and more from these second-generation infected children who are neither hungry nor human, but both.

Greaves is enthralled by all this, so excited it’s all he can do to make himself breathe. The children shift in his mind, semiotically adrift. They are hungries, but not hungries. They have the feeding urge that defines the condition, the preternatural strength and speed, but are social beings with some degree of intelligence.

 

And after a mess of events that lead to the van being pursued by these hungry children and unable to get in touch with their home base at Beacon, they come to realise that Rosie isn’t going to keep them safe forever.

And you hear stories about squads driving for days on end in a jeep or a hummer on good tarmac with a hungry chasing their tail the whole way. It’s a moot point, though. She doesn’t think these are hungries. She has no idea what they are. She didn’t even mention the creepiest part, which is that they’re pint-sized. Human body plan, just way too small.
Man-eating hobbits? Feral ten-year-olds?

 

There were a couple of things that were potential plot holes of the kind discovered when travelling to an earlier part of a timeline that was written after the events that followed, but not enough to excuse skipping The Boy on the Bridge.

This is a slower build than the previous book, but all said and done, this is a wonderful trip back into the universe of The Girl With All The Gifts, full of Carey’s brilliant words that somehow capture the gore and the atrocity of a situation in a beautiful way, and full of characters you can’t help but root for, even though you’re pretty sure they’re doomed because Rosie never returned from her voyage.

 

BOOK REVIEW: The Boy on the Bridge by M.R. Carey

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