I finished writing my review of ‘The Girl With All The Gifts’ – and it seems appropriate to write a review about the prequel to this book by the same author M.R. Carey.
I listened to it immediately after as it had got some cracking reviews on Audible – with some saying they even prepared it to The Girl With All The Gifts – which was a tall order by anyone’s standard.
As with every prequel or sequel – upstaging the original is always going to be a challenge. The world in which the characters live in already has been drawn out and so the author needs to find other ways to surprise the audience.
Especially given that in the sequel we know ultimately that the world is doomed as the virus goes airborne – so ultimately the prequel is going to end in misery anyway.
With all of that being said – Carey does a brilliant job of still being able to shock and surprise the reader in a riveting novel that again had me gripped from start to finish.
The Boy On The Bridge is set some 20 years before The Girl With All The Gifts.
It is centred around a mobile lab cum military transport called Rosalind Franklin that has been commissioned to leave Beacon and travel up and down the country to conduct in the field research in the hopes of finding a cure for the parasitic virus called Ophiocordyceps unilateralis.
The novel joins them on the road as they’re collecting some specimen samples and it’s there we get to learn of the main characters.
The two most notable people are direct counterparts to Melanie and Helen Justineau, who is 15-year old Stephen Greaves, an autistic scientific genius who takes his place as almost the surrogate son of Dr Sameer Khan whom we’ll come to later.
Much of the story is told through the laser-like eyes and mind of Stephen – who is an orphan that was rescued by Khan as a child and grows up in Beacon under the wing of Khan, is taught by her, and quickly demonstrates himself as being precocious by inventing e-blocker which effectively renders humans invisible.
Through their journey across the British Isles, he often conducts his own field experiments where he’ll be gone for hours at a time looking at hungries in their own ‘natural environments’.
What Carey is excellent at with Grieves is conducting an excellent character study as we see someone who is overwhelmed by physical contact, struggles to form simple sentences and approaches the world through the prism of his extreme scientific intellect.
Meanwhile, we see Doctor Samrina Khan who plays the Helen Justineau counterpart in this novel and surrogate mother to Grieves, having raised him and being the only reason he’s in the travelling group and being the only one who cares for him.
Her baby, which is born in the Rosalin Franklin towards the end of the novel is part of a pivotal shift in the story as it’s born an intelligent hungry whom Grieves opts to give to the children as he too sacrifices himself.
This is all set against the backdrop of the tussle for control between Dr Alan Forunier the leader of the group of scientists who in his desire to come back having served the mission – actually sabotages their communications and delays their return back to Beacon.
This is ultimately their undoing as one of their men are killed by the intelligent child hungries that Grieves stumbles. And it is Grieves who takes one of their dead for experimentation and hides it in their lab, who alone discovers a possible cure for the fungus – but one which involves butchering all of the intelligent hungries for their cerebrospinal fluid.
So whilst Fornier and Colonel Isaac Carlisle – the military leader troubled by his unflinching and unquestioning commitment to the military command which leads him to ultimately firebombing much of the country….it is Grieves who drives the developments with the hungries forward.
Much like Sergeant Parkes in The Girl With All The Gifts – we have our own military operators in the form of McQueen and Foss. The parallel is startlingly similar. We have characters that are traditionally heroic, there to protect the interests of the Rosalind Franklin and eager to pull triggers and unleash carbine hell upon the hungries at any opportunity.
And there’s the ongoing battle of scientist vs soldier that is continually being tussled within the novel – much like in the sequel.
Other Criticisms Of The Novel
Now, in the writing of this review – I also took the opportunity to take a look at several other reviews – and I want to offer (of course) my own opinions on how the book read for me.
Coming into the novel I was concerned I would not find it to be of interest given I knew it would ultimately end in them all dying.
Furthermore, trying to treat this book as having similar surprises in the context of the world Carey has drawn I think is pointless. Every prequel or indeed sequel suffers from this same dilemma.
The world is no longer a surprise to us.
Once you look past this you have some riveting character studies drawn as well as moments of tension and high action that I felt were just as exciting as the first novel.
I got thoroughly sucked back into post-apocalyptic Britain and revelled in the frantic pace of the action sequences as well as the detail in which we were wound through Grieves thoughts.
There are also many reviews that take up criticism of the epilogue – in which we get a finale for the entire book overall – claiming that it feels crowbarred in and somewhat forced.
This is where we discover the Ben Macdhui experiment was not without success. Fundamentally – it turns out that there is a place in the Scottish Highlands where the fungus is not airborne and does not grow.
And this is where Colonel Carlisle, upon leaving the Rosalind Franklin in the city (for the characters of The Girl With All The Gifts to discover some 20 years later) heads off to the Scottish Highlands being aware that the Cordyceps fungus hadn’t grown in that environment.
It then cuts to us seeing a community on the verge of death by starvation persists in the Scottish Highlands…
And it’s here we meet an adult Melanie!
She is the bringer of salvation – and we discover the beginnings of a possible harmony between the two parties – the intelligent hungries and the humans.
I felt this to be a fantastic ending to what otherwise would have been a bleak climax (given I hate unhappy endings). A brilliant way of wrapping the two novels together and presenting a more promising view of the future.
I didn’t see this climax coming at all – and with the death of almost all of the characters of The Boy and The Bridge – with Khan, Grieves, McQueen and others passing away…
It is Voss and Carlisle that we see at the end with a ragged band of humans doing their best to survive in this new world.
Here are the notable elements that I enjoyed in this book:
- The endurance and chase the child hungries gave over hundreds of miles across England to recover their fallen comrade
- Grieves’ analysis and perception of the unfolding events but his sheer inability to explain what was actually happening to his fellow crew members
- How close they came to discovering a cure but the ethical decision being made by Grieves ultimately leading to the demise of them all
And, well, I’m always impressed by any author’s ability to weave two stories over this span of time together.
All in all – this was a book that for me definitely has a lot of re-readability – and I truly hope one day Carey will consider writing a third book in this series about the new world.