Name: The Boy on the Bridge
Author: M. R. Carey
Number of Pages: 392 (Hardback)
Published: 2nd May 2017 by Orbit
Genre: Post-Apocalyptic, Horror, Zombie
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. – from Goodreads
Welcome, or welcome back for those who read The Girl With All The Gifts (please say you did, or that you will very soon if you haven’t already, it’s great!), to a bleak, grim, decimated, post-apocalyptic Great Britain, in which a crew of soldiers and scientists take a post-apocalyptic road trip in a giant armoured lab/tank/home from home called the Rosalind Franklin, Rosie for short, in order to search for a real chance to beat the plague that has turned humanity into a hoard of mindless zombies, or hungries as they’re called in Carey’s beautifully bleak world.
This is a prequel to The Girl With all The Gifts, with events taking place around 10 years before Melanie et al ventured out into the wilds.
Rosie and her crew depart from Beacon, hailed as humanity’s main hope in the search for a treatment or cure. They venture off towards Scotland, following in the wake of an earlier (failed) expedition, retrieving samples collected previously and taking their own new caches.
Personality clashes abound, which is not good when faced with constant life or death scenarios and being closed in in such a confined space whilst travelling.
The decisions made by some of the characters at various points are almost as shocking as the prospect of being bitten by a hungry and turned into a walking fungus to linger for forever or until the body finally gives out.
Also frightening – no one actually knows whether within these once-human shells some manner of consciousness may still reside, even if it no longer has any control, because the fungus is in charge. What a horrifying thought.
So you see, the stakes are high. Everything hinges on the team working well together, communicating properly and being united.
You just know this crew is heading for trouble.
There are some big characters within the team.
The colonel is so well known he has the nickname the Fireman, although the name and the actions that inspired it are things he would willingly cast off.
Lieutenant McQueen is efficient, a solider through and through, but he doesn’t seem to like many of his team members, and holds several of them in contempt for different reasons.
Then there’s Dr Fournier, the civilian commander of the expedition. He’s so exasperating, especially towards the end. He doggedly sticks to orders despite so much evidence (death/destruction/a fearsome enemy in relentless pursuit) that he shouldn’t, and it takes a stand from one of the other characters to snap him out of this mentality.
These characters are so real and well developed. The way certain characters’ behaviour seems justified in their own mind gives insight into why they’re doing what they’re doing, even when you really wish they would stop. There were many moments I found myself thinking ‘I cannot believe he/she just did that/is not going to say anything about this/is hiding such a massive secret.’
Which brings me on to the characters at the heart of the novel, Dr. Samrina Khan and her young charge Stephen Greaves. Samrina is not Stephen’s mother; his parents were killed years previously and Rina has taken him very much under her wing, almost insisting that he accompany her on this perilous journey.
For Stephen is clever, very clever. He invented the e-blocker which makes it difficult for hungries to catch human scent, and his mind is well and truly set on finding a cure, or at least a treatment to slow down the progression of the fungus in the human body.
But poor Stephen unwittingly helps to bring disaster down upon the heads of the crew by concealing certain discoveries, and taking action which leads to all manner of unwanted consequences.
Showing his thoughts as he goes along, it all seems reasonable enough, he’s only working towards the much-needed end of finding a treatment, but so many times you’re thinking please just TELL THEM.
I can’t remember the last time I was so invested in a group of fictional characters and their actions.
Rina makes a discovery of her own early on – she’s pregnant. Not ideal given the situation and the hostile environment in which she finds herself. Also, totally against regulations and protocol, although that’s the least of it, for only if the group survive long enough to return to Beacon could anyone take her to task over it, and by then it would be one item added to a long list of charges of questionable behaviour by virtually every other member of the crew. I may have already mentioned there are personality clashes aboard Rosie.
Small deceptions or omissions mount up to create big problems. In a world where you would imagine the biggest threat came from the undead, it’s not always hungries who present the most danger. They’re present, of course, as are the feral children, neither human nor mindless hungry, but quite often it’s more human dangers lurking – junkers, rivalries within the team, political machinations going on back at Beacon, and conspiracies which may reach all the way to the Rosalind Franklin no matter how far away from base she travels.
All this makes for great reading, and the last 100 or so pages just flew by as the crew tried to find their way home. The Boy on the Bridge was one of those books I couldn’t put down but I really didn’t want it to end because bleak as it was, I didn’t want to leave that world behind. And the ending… Ah, the ending… No, I’m saying NOTHING.
So, go read this book, and if you haven’t already, definitely read The Girl With All The Gifts. Could you read this one first, and as a standalone? Yes, I think so, but why miss out on meeting Melanie and Miss Justineau, and even Dr. Caldwell? Read The Girl…, then go on a journey with The Boy…