M. R. Carey, The Girl with all the gifts, Orbit, 2014.
I really really really don't like zombies. Not at all. So no, I've never watched and will never watch The Walking Dead, 28 Days later, Shaun of the Dead nor any of Romero's films. But I didn't know when I picked the book that it would be a zombie story. And by the time I realised it, I was already gripped by the story...
The Girl with all the gifts takes place in the near future. Some humans have been contaminated. They are called "the Hungries" and seem to have intellectually regressed. They also feed on human flesh. Preferably human flesh still attached to an alive human being because it makes better horror scenes.
In a military base, some children are educated. They are under constant surveillance and always tied to a chair. But some of them disappear sometimes, which really intrigues Melanie, one of these children. Melanie herself is an object of fascination for one of her teachers, Helen Justineau. And one day, the base is attacked by the Hungries.
The novel doesn't stray from the well beaten paths of contemporary dystopias: apocalyptic universe, base under siege, quest to make sense of the current world. Nonetheless, the characters, the dialogues and the pace are very well done and the readers find themselves gripped by the story quite quickly.
So much so that I was very very surprised to learn after reading it that M.R. Carey had also written (under a slightly different name) the urban fantasy series Felix Castor which I had really disliked because it was full of clichés. So yes, The Girl with all the gifts is predictable, but the writing and the characters are good enough to make me forgive it.
The way the novel also ties with some Greek myths is also a nice touch. The title is a reference to the Pandora myth, and references to it run through the novel. There's also something close to the Prometheus myth.
The horror in the novel is mainly body horror, so it's better if the reader doesn't mind one or two gory scenes. Or three. Or four.
The Girl with all the gifts is a very enjoyable book to read and it was shortlisted for the 2015 Arthur C. Clarke Award. It is also currently adapted as a film, and even if Carey is supervising the adaptation of his own novel, we all know that the book was better, so better read it before it's released.
If you've liked The Girl with all the Gifts, you may also like