I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Boy on the Bridge by M.R. Carey
Series: The Girl with All the Gifts #2
Published by Orbit on May 2 2017
Genres: Adult, Horror
Format: Finished hardcover
Yes, I’m back! What better way to end my lack of book reviews than with a 5-star book?!
The nitty-gritty: Scary, thrilling and full of heart and emotion, this is another winner from M.R. Carey.
I fell hard for The Girl with All the Gifts a few years ago, and so I was beyond excited to read Carey’s prequel, set in the same world as The Girl with All the Gifts but with a different set of characters and during a different timeline. I loved this just as much, if not more. And although you may have heard that this can technically be read as a stand-alone—which is true to some extent—I think reading Carey’s first book ahead of time will give you better insights into some of the happenings in this story. Plus there is a super cool way that the author ties the two books together near the end, and you’d miss that revelation if you start with The Boy on the Bridge.
It’s been ten years since the Breakdown, when the Cordyseps pathogen was discovered and most of the world fell victim to its ravaging destruction: anyone infected immediately became a mindless “hungry,” a zombie-like creature driven to attack and eat anything warm-blooded it can find—including humans. A fortress city called Beacon has protected many of the survivors, but now the government has decided to send a science team out into the wild in order to research and (hopefully) discover a vaccine against the pathogen. A crew of twelve, including civilian scientists and military personnel, has been roaming the Scottish countryside for weeks, gathering necessary samples from hungries to try to find a cure. It’s dangerous work, as the threat of hungries is ever present, and even with a couple of snipers on the team to protect them, they can never let down their guard. Their home away from home and method of transportation is a hulking tank-like lab on wheels affectionately named “Rosie,” which keeps the hungries at bay and serves as both a home and lab for the twelve crew members—albeit a very crowded one.
Also along as an “assistant” to lead scientist Dr. Rina Khan is fifteen-year-old Stephen Greaves, an autistic savant who not only invented the e-blocker which blocks the scent of the humans from the hungries, but is their best hope at discovering a cure. Because of Stephen’s peculiar ways—he has many of the markers of autism, although I don’t think the word is ever used—most of the crew keep their distance, and in this way Stephen has become a nearly invisible member of the team, which allows him to conduct his own private experiments.
It is during one such unapproved outing that Stephen makes a startling discovery: he makes contact with a girl who isn’t a hungry, but isn’t quite human, either. His extraordinary mind won’t allow him to ignore such an amazing thing, and so he is driven to find out more about the girl, even if it puts the team in danger.
Carey is one of those writers who just does everything right. I could start this review by saying that his characters are amazingly drawn, and that he introduces us to a fairly large cast in only a handful of pages, leaving the reader with the sense that we’ve known these people for ages. Or I could mention the world-building, a bleak and dangerous Great Britain that he describes in spare and beautiful prose. And I would certainly talk about Carey’s pacing, which is perfect, in my opinion. This is one of those stories where each event is important to the story, that rare case where I was never bored or felt like I needed to skim the slow parts. And the tension? Well, it’s unrelenting. Even in the slower moments when the characters have down-time, and they are all safe and sound inside Rosie, there’s tension. In addition to the constant threat of the hungries, there is the all too human threat of what could happen when twelve disparate people are literally trapped together in a small space for weeks on end, never able to get away from each other. The violence in this story is often unexpected, which makes it all the worse when it happens.
So yes, there is a lot I loved about The Boy on the Bridge. And like he did with The Girl with All the Gifts, Carey has a talent for evoking emotion. I didn’t expect to fall for an autistic character so hard, but Stephen turned out to be my favorite character (as he will for many readers, I’m sure). He develops a poignant mother-son relationship with Rina, one of the few people who seems to understand him, and I loved their interactions. One of Stephen’s quirks is that he is compelled to tell the truth, no matter what, and this leads to one of the more heartbreaking scenes in the story.
The rest of the characters are just as well done, but this review would have to be a lot longer for me to go into detail on each one. I especially loved Rina and fellow biologist John Sealey, who have a secret relationship (fraternizing on the mission is strictly forbidden). Carey uses the well-worn pregnancy trope, which often makes me roll my eyes when I come across it, but this time it worked. And I mean worked. If you think you know how things are going to play out, you don’t. Trust me.
Carey also gives us a political subplot that adds even more depth to this already well-rounded story. We immediately notice the tension between the civilian commander, Dr. Alan Fournier, who is in charge of the science team, and Colonel Carlisle, who commands the soldiers. The constantly shifting chain of command leaves the reader wondering who exactly is in charge of the operation, and it doesn’t help when it’s discovered that someone on board is acting as a double agent. Yes, the shit is going to hit the fan, you can see it coming from a mile away, but things don’t go the way you think they will, and that’s half the fun of this story.
Fans of horrific apocalyptic stories are going to love this book, and I sincerely hope that Mr. Carey is planning on writing another tale set in this world. When you get to the end you’ll see what I mean. At the end we get an interesting epilogue that is clearly set after the events of The Girl with All the Gifts, and it simply left me wanting to know more. Highly recommended!
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.