The Boy On The Bridge by M.R. Carey (2017)
The Girl With All The Gifts was published in 2014 to critical acclaim. It dealt with the incidence of a pandemic that sprang from a fungus that turns infected people into zombie-type creatures similar to those to be found in the movie 28 Days Later. Unusually, for this genre, infected children do develop some of the primal urges of the adult zombies but do not lose their sentience and thus are superiors beings with preternatural abilities and skills. The story is reviewed ” here ” The Boy On The Bridge is a prequel to this wonderful tale.
There are spoilers in this review.
Beacon is the last outpost of human civilisation in Britain. It has half a million desperate inhabitants struggling to survive in face of unstoppable tides of Hungries who are pounding upon the perimeters daily, determined to consume the residents. But that is not all of Beacon’s problems. Between the Main Table (the ruling authority), and the Muster (the military command), there are growing frictions as Brigadier Fry, an overly ambitious soldier, is hell-bent on asserting her complete control of the population. But Colonel Carlisle, a principled man of action noted for his safe evacuation of thousands from an infected London, stands in her way. Fry must get him out of the way, at least until she grabs the reins of power.
An expedition is planned. An armoured vehicle, known as the Rosalind Franklin, is kitted out with all necessary for a team to travel safely the entire way from Beacon on the English south coast to Scotland, in the wake of a previous group who disappeared along that route. But it’s a jungle out there. Ten years of absolute chaos and disorder has left the land abandoned to the Hungries, and the Junkers – Mad Max types who rape and pillage. There are fears that the previous expedition met a bad end at the hands of the latter.
It’s a motley crew that assembles for the trip. It consists of both military and civilian teams led by Colonel Carlisle and Dr Alan Fournier. Carlisle’s people are:
Lt Daniel McQueen – a sniper and second in command
Lance-Bombardier Kat Foss – sniper
Private Brendan Lutes – engineer
Private Paula Sixsmith – driver
Private Gary Philips – quartermaster
On Fournier’s roster there is:
Samrina Khan – epidemiologist
Lucien Akimwe – chemist
John Sealey – biologist
Elaine Penny – biologist
Stephen Greaves – nobody is entirely certain
The last job description is not Rebel Voice‘s invention, but is listed in the story. This is because Stephen Greaves, with assistance from Samrina (Rina) Khan, is central to this story but in a most unusual way. Greaves is somewhat autistic, but not high on the spectrum so closer to having Asperger’s, but it’s enough to cause him difficulty in functioning normally. He can’t abide being touched for one thing. He finds direct eye contact painful and he avoids emotional conflict like the plague he is fighting. But Stephen is a genius, the boy who, at aged thirteen, developed the e-blocker, a gel which hides the scent of humans from the Hungries, allowing people to move slightly more safely outside the confines of Beacon. His mind is a complex maze of discovery and investigation but at just fifteen, his presence is frowned upon by the team. If not for Rina, he would not be there at all. But she took him with her when she found him during the evacuation from London and Stephen, now twelve years older, thinks of her as his mother. They’re a team, and a formidable one at that, if only the others realised it.
Carlisle and Fournier don’t see eye to eye. That’s because Fournier is a tit and Carlisle’s not. Fournier has been tasked by Fry to keep an eye on Carlisle. To this end he keeps a secret radio so that he can make reports on the group’s progress. Fry is tracing them as she makes her move for a take-over of Beacon. As the ‘Rosie’ team stops at scheduled points to check on fungal samples left by the previous expedition, Fournier is letting Fry know their whereabouts. He’s a low-down dog, that Fournier.
The Rosie is a great machine. She’s impregnable and reliable and it’s a good job she is for the Hungries are fast and relentless. The Junkers are ruthless also, and might eat you too, but at least they will talk to you about it first. Is that better or worse? It likely doesn’t matter too much as you become an item on the menu. But Rosie protects the team from it all and conveys them safely up through a ravaged landscape of new growth and quickly eroding vestiges of civilisation.
The samples they collect as left by their predecessors are not inspiring. The fungus contained in the containers has grown, thus removing any hope that there might be safe spots where it doesn’t or can’t function. The group realises that they’re clutching at straws, but desperate people will grasp at anything and Rosie’s team are no different. They are deflated each time, however. It seems there will be no sanctuary from the possibility of infection.
As you might imagine, living in cramped quarters under such stress takes it’s toll on the team. Rivalries become evident as does the fact that Rina is pregnant. But not everyone knows that John Sealey is the father. Rather that abort when she discovers her condition, Rina decides to keep her baby, even though it means tough times ahead for both her and the newborn.
Everything is moving along safely, babies and rivalries aside, when disaster strikes. A small exploratory team encounters unknowns, perhaps Junkers, perhaps not, and a fight ensues. Private Lutes is beaten and stabbed to death. No one but Stephen knows exactly what happened, and who did it, but he finds it difficult to tell anyone. It’s a disastrous mistake. If he had, the group would then know that they are up against a new type of Hungry, the children.
As with Melanie, who was The Girl With All The Gifts, these children are infected but not rabid. They are organised, calm and in control. Led by a young girl of about nine, they hunt in a highly regimented fashion and are strict about taking care of one another. Stephen is fascinated. Private Lutes, in a panic, shoots at a moving target and kills one of the children, a little boy. That was his fatal mistake. During the resultant gun battle between the remaining military members of the team and the preternaturally capable children, Stephen nips in and takes the small corpse for medical testing. He realises that the key to a cure could lie in understanding why the children are not controlled by the fungus as other Hungries are. That’s Stephen’s second mistake. The children do not leave their dead behind.
As the Rosie flees the scene without the body of Lutes, the children hunt them. As Hungries, their very low body temperatures makes it difficult for the humans to keep a track on them, but every now and then small figures appear to scare the bejesus out of the team. It’s an interesting concept and one which Rebel Voice welcomes. If you’re going to have a zombie apocalypse, then it is justified that the children should not only survive, but should be the more humane and powerful, as the child Hungries are in this book.
Rosie and her terrified team make it to the Cairngorms to retrieve one more sample left by the others. It’s there that they encounter the children face to face. Stephen and Rina understand why the children are following and what they want, and as Stephen is still childish in appearance, the leader of the young Hungries is keen to be friendly with him. It’s a tender scene as Stephen and the Hungries leader exchange gifts. She tells him in sign language that they only want their little friend back. Unfortunately, the humanity of the child Hungries is matched by the ruthless desire for violence of the military team who open fire on the children, Carnage ensues.
In the confrontation, the children understandably consider themselves under attack by all humans. Members of the team die. John Sealey, Elaine Penny and Private Philips don’t make it. But even worse, from Stephen’s point of view, is that his beloved Rina is not only stabbed in the arm, she’s also bitten by one of the Hungries. The clock of infection and fungal take-over is ticking.
The Boy On The Bridge is a truly wonderful story, just like its sister book. It has it all. There is action, adventure, strong characters, great settings and very fine writing. Carey keeps the pace frantic and full of hooks and pulls. From the moment the adventure begins until the very last page, this tale is as good as you will find. Carey has taken the genre and turned it on its head as the children emerge as the new humans, even if they are infected. The overall conclusion, as with The Girls With All The Gifts, is that the children born with semi-immunity are now the only viable hominids for the future. Yet there might still be a sliver of hope for us regular folks in that some survive the airborne explosion of the infection, an occurrence that eventually wipes out the Junkers and everyone else not fortunate enough to have found a small place that remains free from the fungal spores.
Rebel Voice wonders if this story could be any more timely, as CORVID-19 sweeps across the planet. This modern virus is particularly bad for the elderly and those with respiratory and heart conditions. Thankfully, children are said to suffer less from it than others. This is a small blessing that also forms the bedrock of M.R. Carey’s two magnificent books.
But there is another similarity that these stories have, with past literature. Carey’s two tales end with what is a new species taking over the Earth, a combination of both infected and human so that a symbiosis is achieved that allows a new type of person to live and thrive. In the 1954 novel, I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson, the story also ends with a hybrid emerging to assume hominid dominance after a zombie plague destroys humanity (or does humanity destroy itself?). The movie of the same name starring Will Smith ended differently, which was a shame, but then it wasn’t a very good movie in any case. This comparison is not a criticism of M.R. Carey by Rebel Voice. Rather it is an observation that humane and perhaps realistic desires pervade humanity, even in the genre of horror/sci-fi literature.
Stephen Greaves has a crisis on his hands. Although better capable than anyone to deal with it, given his tremendous intellect, Stephen does not have the emotional capabilities. But love is a strong emotion,perhaps the strongest there has ever been, and Stephen feels intense love for Rina. Will his devotion to the woman who took him in, and loved him unquestioningly, be sufficient to save her even when there is no known cure? Will Brigadier Fry win her battle to become dictator of Beacon? What will happen to Rina’s baby? Will the child Hungries ever get the body of their boy child back? Who will win the 4:15 at Doncaster? Rebel Voice would like to tell you the answers to all of these, but fears that it would be spoiler upon spoiler too far, and this is one story that this site recommends that you read for yourself. We will reveal, however, that The Boy On The Bridge has a thrilling ending that ties in nicely with The Girl With All The Gifts. It also has one of the most emotional scenes, involving Stephen, and a bonus one with Rina, that Rebel Voice has encountered in fiction in quite some time. Didn’t we say it had everything?
Sult scale rating: 8.5 out of 10. This is the prequel to The Girl With All The Gifts, and as such is every bit as good. Strong plot, strong characters, strong pace, just strong. Rebel Voice does not think that you will be able to put this book down once you get started. It’s also a handy manual for what to do should CORVID-19 become any worse. Forget face-masks and latex gloves, you need to get yourself an armoured personnel carrier like Rosie and take yourself off to Scotland. Sadly, Rebel Voice does not think that even such a specialised vehicle could withstand the viciousness of the midge’s to be found there. Ironically, zombies wouldn’t be able to hack them either. The Boy On The Bridge is a highly recommended read.
Enjoyed this? Why not share it?