Fiction Reviews

The Boy on the Bridge

(2017) M. R. Carey, Orbit, £16.99, hrdbk, 392pp, ISBN 978-0-356-50353-0

“Not every bridge should be crossed”


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.

Well, it was inevitable, wasn’t it, that due to the success of Mike Carey’s The Girl With All The Gifts, both as a novel and the film for which he wrote the screenplay, that there would be a sequel. His readers wanted it, his publisher surely wanted it, but... Well, read on, although I am sure if you have seen the film or read the book you are wondering, how do you follow that?

At first glance it seems that Carey has cleverly sidestepped the whole sequel problem, by writing a prequel to The Girl With All the Gifts. Genius, or is it? Well, not exactly, because we do know where we are going to end up eventually down the line, with or without the characters in this book. That is not to say that it isn’t a good read. Carey has built this world after all, he can create a varied cast of characters, he can rack up the tension, but in many ways this book has a similar feel to the first one.

Ten years have passed since the Codyceps pathogen has started turning people into the killing machines known as the “hungries”. Time is running out, and this is a battle that cannot be won by conventional means so science has to win the day, somehow. What that means is that travelling lab called “The Rosalind Franklin” or “Rosie” for short has to hit the road and travel all the way up to Scotland and other places, to collect data gathered by a previous expedition. Therefore we have epidemiologist Dr. Rina Khan and her protégée,15 year old, boy genius, Stephen Greaves, hitting the road along with a military escort and some other scientists. It is not too long before tensions start to rise and everyone distrusts everyone else, and it’s not helped by the fact that they are on a long, slow road surrounded by constant danger and some people are starting to wonder what Stephen is doing there. He might be a boy genius but he is clearly on the autistic spectrum, disliking physical contact and not being able to interact socially with others, but Khan knows he has abilities that will be invaluable on this trip.

Given that “Rosie” was found abandoned in The Girl With All the Gifts, doesn’t instil a lot of confidence in the reader about the outcome of this mission, and the survival rates of those involved. Like the first book, we are in familiar territory with another road trip through hell, a disturbing child genius, scientists against soldiers, people with secrets (and one in particular is a cracker), hidden agendas. Oh, and people who used to be human clamouring outside ready to eat you – is it any surprise that all of this combines to create a powder keg atmosphere that can only explode in a whole variety of different, surprising directions?

There is an epilogue set years later, even after the events of The Girl With All The Gifts and I think it is the perfect conclusion to both books, so my humble advice to M R Carey, Mr. Carey, Mike, would be to stop here, you’ve done enough with your unique take on the world of flesh-eating zombies, but somehow I think your readers and your publisher will insist that “Rosie” gets fired up for one more road trip, pity, because that ending really was terrific.

Ian Hunter

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