The Boy on the Bridge by M R Carey

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The Boy on the Bridge by M R Carey

Category: Science Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: Not a completely unwarranted sequel, but this return to the zombified England of the first book lacks both a strong lead-in character and the attack it deserves.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 400 Date: May 2017
Publisher: Orbit
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9780356503530

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It's ten years since mankind was almost wiped out by a virus that turned the great majority of it into the hungries – zombies by any other name. A lone, heavily armoured vehicle is travelling from the British redoubt on the south coast the length of the Kingdom, tracing a previous expedition that failed to return, and hoping to find evidence somewhere, somehow, of something that can either counter the virus or rid the survivors of their enemy. As a result the vehicle is divided in personnel between scientists and the military, and as neither side is completely cohesive it's no surprise to see the crew split along partisan lines. That's not helped by one of the scientists, Samrina Khan, being heavily pregnant. But she's also rubbed people up by insisting on an intriguing character being on board – a teenaged savant, no less, called Stephen Greaves. But that source of the unusual is nothing perhaps to the bizarre the team will find on their explorations…

When we were first in this world, with The Girl With All the Gifts we saw the benefits of having an author like Mike Carey turn to the standard genre of zombie survival. By focussing on the unusual title character he brought both an unexpected humanity and a much-needed freshness to proceedings. This was a whole heap of goodness that the standard zombie film could not offer, which conversely is perhaps partly why the movie underwhelmed at the box office. After Fellside, which grappled less firmly and perhaps less successfully with different genres, he returns for a sequel. And to borrow another cinematic trope, while he's still got character aplenty and humanity, and questions about the greater world he's presenting, he is much more concerned here with the isolated crew of the vehicle, and not at times much else. This looks geared at being The Girl With… by way of Aliens.

That's not to say this is just an exercise in picking off characters, although great store is given to differentiating the relevant ones in case we care when they do pass. There's the bossy scientist, keeping himself apart even in the isolation the tank-like van already provides, and his military counterpart. One is too bossy for his own good, as well, but the main characters certainly are Greaves and Khan, the lad with perfect memory, who can barely parse emotion, cannot stand touch, and has so much to offer that is unexpected, and his surrogate mother.

However what hit me as the biggest problem with Fellside occurs here again. The book is too long. Yes, I eagerly rattled through it in a day, and didn't ever find myself plodding, but to my eyes the balance was wrong. What the likes of the Alien series has shown us – and looks like continuing to show us, whether we want it or not – is a way of killing humans that is just boring in its predictability. Here the emphasis is on the damage the humans can do without the help of the hungries, but that side of things offered little excitement to me.

I guess I'm wanting my cake and eating it – a world fully defined in fiction form where humans get offed, the threat gets countered – alongside a look at things and people that matter, firmly set in a new milieu. Here the world is evoked very well – the near-future military is fine, the background to the disease shows some consummate biological knowledge, and it's not just a death-fest, but I did seek more concision, more heightened drama, and I guess brutality at times, to give an impact alongside the world building. What's more, it's only the blurb that really suggests that Stephen is the title character, for the liminal child could be one of two – and I also found a lack of lead-in character quite a drop-off from how The Girl affected me last time. Nothing here is inherently bad, but compared to what came before I found myself not caring nearly enough.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

A Head full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay is closer to horror, and also features an unusual teenaged mind.

Buy The Boy on the Bridge by M R Carey at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Boy on the Bridge by M R Carey at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Boy on the Bridge by M R Carey at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Boy on the Bridge by M R Carey at Amazon.com.


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