Published by Orbit on January 2014
Genres: Horror, Science Fiction
Source: Bookworld Reviewer Program
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Melanie is a very special girl. Dr Caldwell calls her 'our little genius'.
Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant 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.
Melanie loves school. She loves learning about spelling and sums and the world outside the classroom and the children's cells. She tells her favourite teacher all the things she'll do when she grows up. Melanie doesn't know why this makes Miss Justineau look sad.
Melanie is a ten-year-old girl being kept in a secure facility somewhere north of London. Each day, she and several other children are taken to a classroom strapped into their wheelchairs, and all precautions are taken to keep them away from each other and the adults on the base. Britain has been infested by “hungries” – victims of a fungus that penetrates the nervous system and takes over, destroying sentience and controlling the host body. For some reason, some children are not the mindless killing machines infesting the rest of Great Britain, and Dr Caldwell and her team want to know why. When the base is attacked by a horde of hungries driven by non-infected junkers, Melanie and a small group of adults go on the run south, towards the safe haven of Beacon.
I’m not usually one to read or watch anything involving zombies. It’s not just the fact that being eaten to death sounds like a particularly horrible way to go, but also that these apocalyptic stories often show a ruthlessness about human nature. Having to compete with others for survival, potentially having to kill someone that used to be a friend or loved one – it’s all a bit much for my happy-fantasy-craving brain.
Despite my non-zombie preferences, this book really captured my imagination. Melanie is just a vulnerable little girl, discovering the wide world for the first time. She’s never been outside the bunker or even seen the sky before, so her wonder in the natural world is wonderful to read about. The adults in the group gradually discover their compassion as they travel with someone they originally viewed as a monster.
Apparently there is already a screenplay in progress for this story. It would be a pretty terrifying film I’d say, but the story does read like a screenplay already. There is a fair bit of travel throughout this book so the pace tends to slow from time to time, but there were some very tense scenes where I was reading peeking between my fingers. The point of view passes between each character so we get to see the reactions to events through the eyes of each. This is part of what makes this book so interesting – the way each character deals with discoveries and zombie attacks along the way, plus the way their feelings towards each other develop and change.
This is a stand alone book so for once there are no cliff-hanger endings and everything ties up nicely at the end. I was left feeling a little heartbroken but satisfied with the way everything turned out, along with a fervent hope that this sort of thing never actually happens!
– A very interesting look at humans under pressure. As you’d expect from a zombie story, it’s quite horrific, but not so bad that I got nightmares!