Orbit, 2014, 460 pages
Melanie is a very special girl. Dr Caldwell calls her "our little genius".
Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don't like her. She jokes that she won't bite, but they don't laugh.
Melanie loves school. She loves learning about spelling and sums and the world outside the classroom and the children's cells. She tells her favorite teacher all the things she'll do when she grows up. Melanie doesn't know why this makes Miss Justineau look sad.
The Girl with All the Gifts is a sensational thriller, perfect for fans of Stephen King, Justin Cronin, and Neil Gaiman.
I guess I can't really say I'm tired of zombie novels since I read so many of them. The Girl with All the Gifts is a slightly more highbrow sort of zombie novel — oh, there is a crapsack world in which zombies have destroyed civilization, and there is carnage and people being eaten by zombies and all the gore and disaster you expect in a zombie novel. But the main character, Melanie, is a 10-year-old girl, and the story is about her and what makes her special.
Which is less twee than it sounds because (spoiler - har har, like this is not obvious from the first page) Melanie is a zombie.
The Girl with All the Gifts is a literary allusion that is repeated throughout the book. It refers to Pandora, of course. Melanie loves Greek myths. She especially loves Miss Justineau, who teaches her class Greek myths and geography and other information that turns out to be completely useless once they find out they live in a secret military base that may be the last pocket of survivors this side of London.
When the base is overrun by "Hungries" (yes, this is another zombie novel where the author studiously refuses to use the "Z" word), Melanie helps Miss Justineau escape, along with the sociopathic Dr. Caldwell. Where Miss Justineau wanted to treat her little zombie charges as children, Dr. Caldwell treated them like test subjects. Now her only surviving test subject is free and keeping her alive, which does not prevent Dr. Caldwell from wanting to slice her brain open to figure out what makes it work.
Accompanying them are two soldiers, who initially read like grunts and seem destined to play the role of cannon fodder in the story, but they both get surprising levels of character development before everything goes into the shitter.
The little band of survivors and their trek across an England ravaged by zombie hordes and survivalist brigand gangs reads like most such stories, including the inevitable body count. It also reads distinctly British — there is just something about these characters and their banter and their existential angst that you know would play out differently if they were Americans. At times the book felt like a Torchwood miniseries... you know, after Torchwood has screwed up and let the zombie apocalypse happen.
Besides survivalist adventure and a little zombie you just want to hug (except that would trigger her hunger for flesh and then she'd eat you), there is a reasonable amount of science fiction, as the author spent some time working out the "science" behind his zombies, and the revelations at the end bring the book to a grim, though not completely bleak, conclusion.
Verdict: I liked The Girl With All the Gifts a lot. One of my top three zombie novels, for sure. As a story, it's not really breaking new ground, so if you really are tired of zombie novels, this one probably won't rekindle your interest, but if you're not, I recommend it as one of the better ones. 8/10.
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