The Girl with All the Gifts is a post-apocalyptic zombie novel that distinguishes itself with a big twist uncommon to any zombie stories I have previously seen.
Much of the story is told from the perspective of Melanie, a ten-year-old girl who lives in a cell in an army barrack outside of what was formerly London. Every day she is strapped into a wheelchair and taken to a school, which she attends along with other similarly-restrained children. But Melanie is smarter than any of the other kids, and she also has a crush on one of her teachers, Miss Justineau, who is the only one who treats Melanie with compassion. Miss Justineau often reads to the children from books about Greek gods and goddesses, and Melanie’s favorite is about Pandora, “the girl with all the gifts.”
According to legend, Pandora was the first human woman created by the gods, as a punishment to humanity for Promentheus’s theft of the secret of fire. Pandora has all kinds of wonderful qualities, but she is curious, and can’t resist opening a box she isn’t supposed to open, which releases terrible evils out onto the Earth. One can assume that in this book Pandora’s tale is allegorical for the apocalypse that has destroyed most of the human race and created the “hungries” (as zombies are called), as well as the subsequent developments in the book.
Shortly into the story, the army compound where Melanie lives is breached by “junkers” (“survivalist arseholes”) who live off the land and take their chances. They have managed to organize; devise a way to protect themselves; and herd a band of “hungries” to use as bioweapons in their quest to capture the weapons and supplies of the base. Melanie, Miss Justineau, the base scientist Caroline Caldwell (a Nazi-like evil woman), and a young private, Kieran Gallagher, escape in a broken-down Humvee led by Sergeant Eddie Parks, who has become the default leader of the base and now of the escaping group.
They need to find refuge in a city with shelter and supplies, somehow making it through hoards of hungries, bands of junkers, and last but not least, by surviving the worst instincts of each other. All the characters reveal their strengths and weaknesses in the process, leading to an ending that is unexpected and impressively creative.
Discussion: Carey’s zombies are distinctive in two big ways. One, unfortunately, I cannot reveal. But the second reason is that the author actually accounts for their origin and nature in a scientifically plausible way. This certainly made reading a book about zombies more palatable for me, and added interest and realism to the usual zombie plotlines.
I also appreciated that the story is more character than action driven. All of the characters are fleshed-out (so to speak) except for Dr. Caldwell, who could have used a bit more nuance. As usual (and perhaps gratifyingly), it seems harder for authors to add nuance to evil.
The author includes occasional musings on what constitutes a “monster,” and whether one actually has to be a “zombie” to qualify. Gallagher, for instance, “…knows all about monsters, because he comes from a family in which monsters predominate.” In fact, one quite often has cause to wonder in this book who the real “monsters” are. This was a nice touch.
Evaluation: Zombie books are not my cup of tea, but this book is very well-done.
Published by Orbit, an imprint of Little, Brown Book Group, a member of the Hachette Book Group, 2014