I first heard about this book from the website io9. It was their book club of the month. By the time I got my hands on a copy, they had already moved on to something else. But I read it anyway and I’m really glad I did.
Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite, but they don’t laugh.
This book is near impossible to discuss without going into spoilers. So if you want to go into this book blind and you should) I suggest you stop reading now and go pick up The Girl With All the Gifts if not, keep reading past the cut.
This book is about zombies. Yes, suprise. Zombies. Zombies have been everywhere these last two years. Movies, TV, books, video games. Zombies, zombies, zombies. The Girl with All the Gifts falls into a different category of zombie novels.
The zombie apocalypse that wiped out the majority of humanity was caused by a fungus related to Ophiocordyceps unilateralis.The infected are referred to as Hungries, because well… they’re constant driving hunger. When the infection takes over it quickly overrides the person’s brain rewiring them to hunt for others to feed and transfer the infection through blood and spit.
Humanity has survived, but barely, living in either highly fortified settlements or roaming around in packs called Junkers. Humanity’s survival is mostly thanks to a spray they used called E-Blocker that makes their human scent undetectable to the Hungries.
Gifts starts in a special military/research base called Hotel Echo. Our main character Melanie is a Hungry, but a special one. The scientists are studying Hungry children who possess a slight immunity. Unlike their adult counterparts, these children are able to learn and communicate with others. The scientists lead by the brilliant Caldwell and hope that they will be able to find a cure and save the rest of humanity.
The base has a team of teachers who give lessons to the Hungry children. Melanie’s favourite teacher is Miss Justine and to Melanie’s delight Miss Justineau seems to favour her more than the rest of the students in the class.
The main plot kicks off when Caldwell requests Melanie be brought to her lab. Those who visit Caldwell never come back and Melanie knows this. Caldwell dissects the children in hopes that she can figure out how the Ophiocordyceps unilateralis controls their brains differently than the regular Hungries. Melanie is rescued by Miss Justineau. Only to find that the base has been attacked by Hungries driven by Junkers (think of a cattle drive).
Miss Justineau and Melanie then join three others in an attempt to reach Beacon, the closed human settlement. The majority of the plot is the group’s flight to freedom through Hungry and Junker infested territory. That is, if Beacon still stands, it’s been weeks since Hotel Echo has heard anything from the city.
Gifts is character driven, and the novel relies heavily on how the survivors interact. Each character has their own wants and goals. Caldwell could have easily have been type cast as a mustache twirling villain, but she wasn’t. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the scientist.
Caldwell turns her back on it and slams the door. If the road to knowledge is paved with dead children – which at some times and in some places it has been – she’d walk it and absolve herself afterwards. What other choice would she have? Everything she values is at the end of that road.
To fight monsters Caldwell becomes a monster herself. I liked that she was fully aware of herself in that regard. To Melanie, Caldwell was the fairy tale monster that wants to eat you. The other adults in the novel tolerate what she does because they believe that she is working towards the greater good, but by the end of the novel they come to realize that she is fighting a losing battle, and that she’s crazy for not giving up.
It is the end of this novel that stuck with me for days. The build up is totally worth the pay off.
Caldwell, dying of blood poisoning explains her findings to Melanie, there is no cure. Humanity as they know it is done for, the only hope for further existence is through the hungry children like Melanie. They are carriers but will be able to function as humans, the catch being there will be no humans to teach them how too. The children will grow up feral and society will crumble to the ground. The End.
The fungus’s life cycle is similar to it’s real life counterpart. You can read about that here (enjoy the pictures). Melanie explodes the contagion and releases it, into the atmosphere to infect the rest of humanity.
“What did we do kid? Tell me”….
“There are these pods,” she sayd, pointing towards where the fungus wall is still burning. “In there. Pods full of seeds. Dr Caldwell said this was the fungus’s mature form, and the pods were meant to break open and spread to the wind. But the pods are very tough, and they can’t open by themselves. Dr Caldwell said they needed something to give them a push and make them open. She called it an enviormental trigger. And I remembered the trees in the rainforest that needed a big fire to make their seeds grow”…
“But…” Parks shakes his head.
“Because of the war, Melanie tells him. And because of the children. The children like her – the second generation. There’s no cure for the hungry plague, but in the end the plague becomes its own cure. It’s terribly terribly sad for the people who go first, but their children will be okay and they’ll be the ones who live and grow up to make a new world.
Gifts ends grimly. Miss Justineau is the only surviving human on earth. She’s swapped roles with Melanie, where she was Melanie’s keeper, now Melanie is hers and she’s doomed to teach the Hungry children. Bringing the novel full circle to the very beginning.
I adored this novel and in a world where dystopian stories and zombies flood the book shelves its nice to come across something different. I loved the grim hopeless ending, I loved the detailed scientific explanations for the the Hungry Plague and I loved that there was no surprised super cure at the end.
The Girl With All the Gifts surprised and horrified me in the best kind of way. If you’re a horror fan, I definitely recommend you check this one out.