I don’t always read sequels and prequels – I often read the first in a series and move on. Not because I don’t enjoy series (particularly in fantasy and/or post-apocalyptic fiction) but because, well, there are just so many books coming out. All the time. But sometimes a follow-up title comes along that I really need to read – often because the previous volume left so many unanswered questions. I read and reviewed The Girl With All The Gifts, Carey’s last book, two years ago when it came out in hardback – I managed to wait until Boy on the Bridge came out in paperback but give in I did…
It took me awhile to work it out but Boy on the Bridge is set some years before Girl With All the Gifts. In the earlier book we meet children who are similar to the zombie-like beings roaming the countryside, the Hungries. But unlike the adult Hungries these children retain many of their human qualities – the giveaway that we are reading about a few years earlier in this book is the fact that for much of the time the main characters only know of the standard sort of mindless Hungry. They are a mixed group of scientists and military protection who are following a previous expedition which left samples from various zombies. They are searching for any variation in soil type, climate, elevation or other environmental factors but find nothing until they reach Scotland. There are an interesting blend of characters – the military side includes a commanding officer who has been sent out as a political move as well as a variety of junior soldiers. The point is made that, after an apocalyptic event, there are limited career options – mechanics, technicians and anyone who can hold a gun will all end up in the army. The scientists are a similar group, although their weak link is their nominal leader who spends most of his time hiding away. The two members of the team we see most of are Samrina Khan, an epidemiologist, and Stephen, a 15-year-old boy who appears to be autistic but is also brilliant. He, in fact, came up with the idea for the gel everyone uses when outside which blocks the scents which attract the Hungries attention. They are also the two team members who have secrets to hide – Dr Khan has become pregnant, which was always going to be a problem on a year-long mission, and Stephen is sneaking out to study the Hungries at much closer quarters than is usually safe.
This is a sort of zombie novel but also one which looks at how people react to stressful circumstances. It is vaguely pleasing to see women in leadership positions but the reaction of the team to Stephen is sadly realistic – he is treated by most of the group as a liability, they feel he is just a child and that his autism makes him a danger to himself and others. I was fascinated by Stephen’s narration of events as he saw them too – he is pretty aware of how others see him but is absolutely certain of the validity of the work he is doing. When this work brings him face to face with a group of children who are living among the Hungries he realises they have found the anomaly they were searching for.