BOOK REVIEW: The Boy on the Bridge by MR Carey

Michael Carey or M. R. Carey is the established British writer of prose fiction and comic books. He has written for both DC and Marvel, including critically acclaimed runs on X-Men and Fantastic 4, Marvel’s flagship superhero titles – of which I own many. He is also the writer behind the book and screen play ‘The Girl With All The Gifts’ (TGWATG) which is now a feature film directed by Colm McCarthy, ‘Fellside’ and his most recent release and why we are here now ‘The Boy on the Bridge’ (TBOTB).

So let me start by saying that I am a huge fan of Michael Carey’s work, whether that be in the comic format (his run in X-Men and the run in Hellblazer for me were brilliant) or in his ever growing fictional work. The way Carey is able to deal with character development, whether that be from existing cast of characters or with his own creations is astounding, he leaves them with a heart and soul that endears them to the reader and makes you champion their journey through the pages of his comics and books.

The same care, consideration and character development can be attributed to those he has masterfully born in ‘The Boy on the Bridge’.

When I heard that Carey was delving back into the world of ‘TGWATG’ I was somewhat thrilled and excited. I would be heading back into this rich and wonderful dystopian future that he had deftly brought to life. Carey in my humble opinion has singlehandedly reinvented the Zombie genre and I can honestly say that I’ve not felt this much excitement about the genre since Danny Boyle’s ’28 Days Later’ blasted onto the scene back in 2002. I firmly believe the genre could not be in better hands – Carey has made it that bit more special and accessible to a wider audience.

However, it is not to say I had my reservations. Returning to such a knockout hit is something some writers fail to deal with, how was it going to build on what we already had witnessed, what we already knew from ‘The Girl With All The Gifts’ and then in a masterstroke of brilliance M. R. Carey announced it was going to be a prequel. Oh yes things were going to get a little bit more interesting.

As ‘TGWATG’ had Melanie, Carey opted again for our main protagonist in this second outing to be a child, a boy in fact. Our guide and moral centre to ‘TBOTB’ is Stephen an autistic but highly functioning boy who struggles with his own existence amongst the group of explorers and in the world, he now finds himself. The cast of characters is quite similar to ‘TGWATG’ in regards to having both a science team and a group of soldiers – but that my friends is where the comparisons end. Each person within this expedition is unique, the character development that each faces throughout the unfolding of the story is second to none. The way Carey deftly handles their beliefs, reasoning, prejudices and not to mention their reactions to various external and internal factors is shockingly vivid and I enjoyed seeing these play out.

Where ‘TGWATG’ had its fair share of physical conflict that was the lifeblood behind its success. ‘TBOTB’ has a more human conflict and internal conflict that affect each character and that is what I believe has made this such an astonishing follow up. We are in the boiling pot as it were with a rag tag bunch of misfits each with their own agenda, each with their own beliefs and prejudices. I found this made certain parts of the book extremely intense especially when the conflict between the crew intensifies and manifests itself with explosive consequences.

As with both books are set in a post-apocalyptic Britain, a society that is struggling since the breakdown and the discovery of the mysterious fungal disease that turns humans into flesh craved Hungries. Those on board the Rosalind Franklin (a nice little nod to the tank / science base they discover in ‘TGWATG’) have a mission to track down a cache of scientific tests made by an earlier failed expedition. Who were trying to discover if any environments are inhospitable to the Cordyceps virus (Hungries Pathogen) as well as charting the effects of the infected, like ethologists, observing the Hungries in their own environments and taking samples where possible.

‘The hungries’ reaction is more dramatic than Greaves’. It’s also quicker, since it’s not mediated by any conscious thought. They throw themselves against the base of the wall the girl leapt over. The first ones to reach it claw at the damp cement as though they could rip their way through, until the ones coming up behind press them against it, crushing and breaking them.

Greaves takes the opportunity, with all eyes turned away from him, to extract himself from the room a little more quickly than he would otherwise have dared.’

‘The Boy on the Bridge’ is an immersive thrill ride into a world you thought you knew, but it is a completely different ball game. At times it was so tense that I needed to pace myself through the book, being carried away with the almost ‘Hunt for the Red October’ vibe that Carey was able to infuse within his storytelling. Those moments when they discover a new form of Hungry, fight or flight takes over, the rescue attempt made by Rosalind Franklin and then their protracted retreat are some of the best pages of thriller writing I have read in years.

I have read a few reviews of the book, with many stating that they found the scientific parts of the book quite boring; for me I found these integral to the storytelling, to finding out how this plays out in the big scheme of things and how what they learned here relates to the other book. As I’ve mentioned previously, this book is a slower pace to ‘TGWATG’ but it’s beauty and impact is in the details, the subtle nuances that Carey delicately sews throughout the story that touch on the first book and incredibly rich and masterfully executed.

Although this is billed as the sequel (prequel) to, ‘The Girl With All The Gifts’ I’d say it could quite easily be a standalone book in itself. Everything you want from a story, Carey has thoughtfully constructed and eloquently displayed, in my opinion a book that is up there with the brilliance of its predecessor.

‘McQueen is a tracker of considerable skill and experience. It pisses him off, therefore, to find that there is nothing to track.

Actually that’s not quite true. There is the occasional footprint, wherever the trail is softest. Small and shallow, they confirm Foss’s visual descriptions of their quarry. They look like the prints of barefooted Children.

But there is no consistent direction. If one print leads west, the next will almost certainly point them east, or south. If the trail leads upslope, they’ll just find another print at the crest of a hill that’s heading downward again. Either the goblins are dancing in a big fucking ring or they are deliberately smoking their tracks. McQueen is unwilling to accept either of these two hypotheses.’

Carey brings the story to its brilliant, emotive and poignant conclusion in a way that is evident of someone who is at the top of his or her craft. Its impact lasts long after you close the book and perfectly concludes the series tying masterfully the end of ‘The Boy on the Bridge’ to the aftermath of ‘The Girl With All The Gifts’.

Will there be more? I do hope so, but if there is not Carey has left us a tremendous set of books that have reinvented the genre and pumped some much-needed blood into those dying veins of the genre.

I am ravenous for more of this world…some might say hungry; so please do not let this be the end of the franchise!

BOOK

Check our Interview with MR Carrey below:

Michael Carey Interview part 1

Michael Carey Interview part 2

MR Carrey

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Mike Carey is a British writer whose work appears in comic books, novels, TV, film, and radio. His novel The Girl with All the Gifts is an international bestseller, and has been adapted by Carey for the 2016 Colm McCarthy-directed film.

He’s written for DC and Marvel, including critically acclaimed runs on Ultimate Fantastic Four and X-Men, and with Peter Gross, Lucifer and The Unwritten. His books include Fellside, the Felix Castor series, and The Steel Seraglio (with Linda and Louise Carey)

The Boy on the Bridge was published by published by Orbit on 4th May 2017

You can purchase a copy of The Boy on the Bridge from FoylesWaterstones, or The Book Depository:

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To discover more about Orbit click here

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Review by Ross Jeffery

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