The Boy on the Bridge by M. R. Carey – Review

The Boy on the Bridge by M. R. Carey – Review

Sometimes, the stars align and you find yourself prepared for something unexpected. While I wish I could say that about the whole of my life (and the world in general), this has only really happened in one area: reading. Luckily reading is kind of what I’m best at (along with writing perhaps), and as such I was very excited to find out that three things had happened without me realising:

  1. A companion novel to a book I loved was being published;
  2. It had been published a few days ago; and
  3. I had read the book it was related to only a month or so before, so it was fresh in my mind.

As the name is in the title, I’m afraid you don’t win any points for guessing that the book I’m talking about is The Boy on the Bridge by M. R. Carey, which is a prequel to The Girl with All the Gifts. For those who are unaware of Girl, it was published in 2014 and commissioned as a film at the same time, so Carey actually wrote the book and the screenplay at the same time. For more information on this, I highly recommend watching Jen Campbell’s interview with him here, as I heard about Boy from her as well. In fact, just check out all her videos – she’s an incredibly smart and charismatic person, and I absolutely love her work. Like poetry? Check her out. Like fairytales? Check her out. Like discussing issues of social justice and disability? Check her out!

Alright, now that I’ve finished fangirling over Jen, let’s get down to why you (probably) clicked on this post. Should you buy this book? In all honesty, how could I tell you what to do with your time and money? I personally wanted to get this book as soon as I heard about it (and indeed I did, even though it was only available in hardback, which I’m not a fan of), but some people have felt that they’ve been led astray by the blurb:

“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.”

If we compare this with the blurb for Girl, we might think that the stories are pretty similar:

“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 Parks 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 favorite teacher all the things she’ll do when she grows up. Melanie doesn’t know why this makes Miss Justineau look sad.”

At first glance, it seems that the stories are very similar, but actually the purpose of Boy is to serve as a different type of story within the same world as Girl (and around the same sort of time). Therefore, it’s best to view as a companion novel, rather than something intimately connected with Girl, although it does give some further details on areas that arise within Girl.

So, what is the novel really about? I’m going to start this off (finally, after 500 words) by giving a bit of background to the world and some information on Girl, although this review is spoiler-free for both books. Both books are set about ten years after an apocalyptic event wherein a fungal infection has spread through the human population, turning them into flesh-hungry zombies (referred to as ‘hungries’). So yes, a zombie book, but like all good zombie stories, this focuses more on people, and who we consider to be a person, than zombies themselves. The infection is actually the same as the one in The Last of Us, a video game that I absolutely love, centred around a young girl who may provide a cure making her way across the country, accompanied by an older man. Actually, there are a lot of similarities between the two, but they remain distinct enough that I never felt that one was ripping off the other. It’s also particularly interesting because the fungal infection actually exists, albeit in ants, which turns the ant into a host for the fungus.

Within Girl, Melanie, her teacher Miss Justineau, Dr Caldwell (an epidemiologist), Private Gallagher, and Sergeant Parks are forced to journey from the only home Melanie has ever known, an old RAF base in the south of England, to the last surviving human city, Beacon, in south Kent. Through the course of their journey, they have to travel through London, where they find an abandoned mobile laboratory called the Rosalind Franklin – heavily armoured and near indestructible, the Rosalind and another vehicle, the Charles Darwin, were sent out from Beacon, and then never heard from again. Boy is the story of what happened to the Rosalind.

At the start, we join the crew of the Rosalind just after they’ve left Beacon, made up of a science team, and an army escort to protect the scientists, who are all handily listed on pages 12 and 13.

The scientists:

  1. Dr Alan Fournier – civilian commander
  2. Samrina Khan – epidemiologist
  3. Lucien Akimwe – chemist
  4. John Sealey – biologist
  5. Elaine Penny – biologist
  6. Stephen Greaves – nobody is entirely certain

The escort:

  1. Colonel Isaac Carlisle – military commander
  2. Lieutenant Daniel McQueen – sniper and second in command
  3. Lance-Bombardier Kat Foss – sniper
  4. Private Brandon Lutes – engineer
  5. Private Paula Sixsmith – driver
  6. Private Gary Phillips – quartermaster

Just as in Girl, the viewpoints switch between characters, although Carey now has to deal with a larger cast of characters. However, his writing is so carefully crafted that the thread of the story is preserved throughout, and each chapter has a purpose in furthering the story. I mean sure, sometimes it’s aggravating, but he weaves everything together in such a satisfying way. Just as in Girl, the characters are varied and complex, and even when I thought I had them sussed out, they still managed to surprise me. Also, Carey is great writing diverse characters. Of the twelve primary characters, at least two are PoC (that we’re aware of from their names, I won’t assume that because someone has a ‘white sounding’ name that they are white), and at least two gay characters in a relationship, and one who may be asexual. There are also four women in the typically male-dominated fields of science and the armed forces, and no character is ever reduced to a stereotype.

That’s all very well and good, but what happens? I don’t want to go into too much detail here, as I always like to experience a story for myself. However, now would be a good time to return to my qualm about Boy‘s blurb, as it implies (along with the cover art) that the boy is a similar age to Melanie (who is ten). However, Stephen, the eponymous character, is actually fifteen, and is a very capable scientist (it’s revealed early on that he invented the e-blocker that protects human scent from attracting the hungries) and he sets out with the rest of the crew to find a cure. While I would argue that Girl is hardly a children’s book, it certainly deals with the innocence of child and the experience of growing up and becoming aware of your place in the world. In contrast, Boy deals with hope in the face of overwhelming odds, of the importance of sacrifice, and the human resilience to survive in the harshest of conditions.

Overall, Boy is a slightly slower, more subtle story than Girl, which focuses more on the dynamics of a group rather than individual characters, but is utterly mesmerising, and slowly ups the emotional stakes to a jaw-dropping finale. Despite being connected, there is no mention of the plot or characters in Girl (apart from a quick reference to Dr Caldwell) until the epilogue. And oh dear Lord, what an epilogue it is. It was beautiful, it brought genuine tears of joy to my eyes, which hasn’t happened to me for a long time, and it absolutely thrilled me to my core. I gave this book 4/5 stars, as I did for Girl.

So left me know what you think; did you like Boy? If you haven’t read it yet, are you tempted? You can find me Facebook, Goodreads, and Twitter, and until next time, may your plots be satisfying and your characters get what they deserve.

If you would like to buy either The Boy on the Bridge or The Girl with All the Gifts, then the links will take you to The Book Depository, where you get free delivery. If you decide to buy them using these links, I’ll also receive a small commission 🙂

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The Glittering Court Review

Hello everyone! First of all, I realise that I haven’t posted since my review of The Secret History last week, and many apologies for that. Unfortunately I had a dizzy spell on the tube on Thursday (while on the way to see a play with my boyfriend), and we ended up in St Thomas’ Hospital until 2:30 am. I also have two End of Year Essays in for the 12th, so a lot of my energy is focused on them. However, I promised a review of The Glittering Court by Richelle Mead, and that is what I shall give!

If you’re purely interested in my rating, it’s 3 stars – I enjoyed this book, but I had a couple of issues with it. Read on to find out why.

To give some basic background to the book, it is the first in a series of companion books set during the colonisation of the United States (here named Adoria), so presumably around the 1600s. It is a YA novel, and Mead is the author of the popular series The Vampire Academy and Bloodlines series. While I have not read these, I am aware that Mead is popular within the genre, and the premise of the book interested me, so I decided to buy it.

 

Characters:

  • Adelaide Bailey (formerly Countess Elizabeth Whitmore) – the protagonist; a young woman trapped in an unwanted engagement, she flees luxury to try to forge a new life for herself in disguise.
  • Tamsin – a  former laundress and friend of Adelaide, she is fierce, ambitious, and will the subject of one of the later companion books.
  • Mira – a refugee from a warring country, seemingly reflective of Syria. She is intelligent, mysterious, a friend of Adelaide and Tamsin, and will be the subject of another one of the companion books.
  • Jasper Thorn – the owner of the Glittering Court; a business man with his eye on the bottom line.
  • Cedric Thorn – Jasper’s son; a charming university student and love interest of Adelaide, who also harbours a troubling secret.
  • Warren Doyle – the governor’s son in Adoria’s capital interested in pursuing Adelaide.

 

Plot Overview:

Countess Elizabeth Whitmore, unwilling to marry her cousin to save the family title, poses as her maid, Adelaide Bailey, to enter the Glittering Court. Part finishing school, and part marriage market, the enterprise teaches lower-class girls how to be glamorous wives for the New World. Secrets and romance blossom for Adelaide, and she must walk a thin line to protect herself and Cedric.

 

Elements I Liked:

  • There are some very interesting theological elements throughout the book, both concerning the main, domineering religion (which is essentially Christianity), and the heretical ‘pagan’ religion (it is deemed to be pagan throughout the book, but by this it means a religion focused around nature – paganism is actually a far broader term). As a theology student, I really enjoyed the way these intertwined.
  • There were hidden depths to all the main characters, which will (hopefully) be explored more later in the series. I wanted to read about the characters in more depth, and find out what they were doing when they weren’t in Adelaide’s immediate world.
  • I was worried at the start that it would take issues with class too lightly, but this turned out not to be the case. While Adelaide was well-prepared in terms of acting like a high-class lady, she was unable to perform more basic tasks and genuinely struggled with the burden placed upon women within the time period. Up the proles!
  • The women within this book are multi-faceted, complex, and in some cases, pretty bad-ass. Anyone hoping for swooning and big dresses may be disappointed, these women have their own agendas.

 

Elements I Didn’t Like:

  • Adelaide herself can feel like a little bit of a letdown at times – I certainly think she’s the least interesting of the three, and there were times when I wondered why I cared about her character. Although in the final third I found her to be more interesting, I felt that Mead did not start off her series with the most intriguing character, although maybe coming to the most boring character later would have been a worse idea!
  • So. Many. Anachronisms. I know that this is set in a fictional world, but it is written in a similar fashion to historical fiction, and therefore some historical accuracy would be appreciated. Two glaring examples are the fact that it says that a street in a very poor area of the capital is lit with gas street lighting. Gas street lighting did not begin to emerge until the nineteenth century, and even then, the London slums (which the setting is analogous to) did not receive street lighting until the 1930’s at the earliest. The second is that Tamsin, a poor laundress, writes reams of letters, which would have been a ridiculous notion in the 1600’s. Even if she could afford the materials, the majority of lower-class men, let alone women, could not even read, apart from perhaps a few basic words. While we now commonly perceive writing and reading to go hand-in-hand, they are two very different skills, and only professional scribes or scholars could write more than anything more complex than a short letter. Unless it is explained how she can do this in her book, this very much stands out to me. I am very much a history geek though, so this may not bother some people.
  • In general, I quite like the writing, but unfortunately it degenerates a lot when it comes to romantic scenes. Richelle, you don’t need to make everything so bloody melodramatic! YA readers can handle more than ridiculous cliches! On the plus side, some of these made me laugh, so it wasn’t all bad.

 

Final Conclusion:

I am aware that this book is being marketed as fantasy, which is disappointing some people, and I certainly cannot see any fantasy elements within it. This is far more like (almost) historical fiction, so be aware of that if that’s a driving factor for you. Some elements annoyed me a bit (as you can see above),  but I wanted to know more about the other girls, and what they were dealing with, so I will definitely be reading more of this series. I’m particularly looking forward to Mira’s one, my favourite character by far!

 

So there’s my review! Feel free to comment below and let me know what you thought of the book, or if you feel this is something that interests you. My next review will be of Charlotte Street by Danny Wallace, and will be posted either later this week or next week, depending on my university workload. Until then, happy reading 🙂

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The Secret History Review

Hello everyone! This review may get rather flowery in terms of prose, so apologies in advance if that isn’t your style, my review next week will be of The Glittering Court by Richelle Mead, which won’t be as ridiculous! You can always check out my shorter review on YouTube.

Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, published in 1992, has rightly earned its status as a modern classic. A rich, tightly woven neo-romantic tale of Bacchanalian passion and academic obscurity, it’s detailed plot descends into the raw nature of man when veils are removed. I gave it 4 stars – I truly enjoyed this book and will certainly be reading it again in the future.

Characters:

  • Richard Papen – The protagonist and eyes through which we experience the story. Having given up on studying medicine in California, he begins to attend Hampton College in Vermont, and is eventually accepted into the highly prestigious and mysterious Classics course. Thrown completely out of his depth, he struggles to make sense of the giant forces at play around him.
  • Charles and Camilla Macauley – Fraternal twins on the Classics course. Kind yet beautiful orphans, they are nearly inseparable, and sometimes bring a sense of foreboding particular to twins.
  • Francis Abernathy – Another student on the Classics course. At times nervous, and at others sure of himself, he begins to crack under the pressure around him in true dramatic fashion.
  • Henry Winter – The star of the Classics course. A brilliant mind with a calm and even temper, he reads an astounding array of languages and always seems to be one step ahead of everything else.
  • Bunny Corcoran – The final Classics member. Snobbish, boorish, and accustomed to a rich lifestyle but without the means to support it, he leeches off his friends and tests their patience regularly.
  • Julian Morrow – The Classics tutor. An old-fashioned and personable to his select group, he prefers to view the world as beautiful above everything else. Think Professor Slughorn with a keen interest in Homer.

 

Brief Plot Overview:

  • Within the first few pages, it becomes clear that Bunny has been killed by the others, seemingly by him falling off a cliff. The story builds up to this central point, with the reasons for the act, and then deals with the aftermath and everything begins to unravel.
  • Richard gets onto the mysterious and elitist Classics course, and gets involved with their clique of academia, privilege, beauty, and by turns mystique and raw humanity.

 

Enjoyable Elements:

  • The writing is absolutely beautiful. There aren’t huge passages describing the scenery, yet Tartt still manages to paint the landscape so beautifully, that I felt I could have been standing there with them.
  • There are a lot of nerdy references to Classics and Greek/Latin. These will be particularly exciting to any scholars, and the descriptions of Classics as an academic subject are accurate and knowledgeable.
  • The structure gives nothing away, and I felt that I had been left in a constant sense of anticipation and mystery. No clues or cliches were left within the mix, and the writing at times became genuinely surprising, especially concerning the ending!

 

Less Enjoyable Elements:

  • Although I did not purposefully feel like this, I am aware that some people find the book to be elitist and full of intellectual snobbery. This is primarily because Classics is predominantly a very privileged field, and although Tartt’s writing doesn’t come across as snobbish, some of the characters do.
  • From a socialist perspective, I found it very annoying that Richard wanted to constantly wanted to hide his working class roots and pretend to be a rich snob like everyone else. I wanted him to show them all that he could do whatever they could, without their expensive educations.
  • I did find it quite slow-going, and felt I was not able to sit down and read huge amounts in one sitting. However, I did feel that the slow journey was ultimately rewarding.

 

Final Overview:

An amazing piece of writing and a stunning debut novel, this is a book I shall certainly be holding onto and reading again. I felt that it really connected with my life right now (as I am about to leave university), and I think that anyone who is in university, or anyone going to university soon, particularly to study an area such as Classics, would really get a lot out of it.

What did you think of the book? Did you find it snobbish, or interesting? Do you think it was worth the accolade of modern classic? Let me know in the comments below! Come back next Thursday to see my review of The Glittering Court by Richelle Mead.

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A Darker Shade of Magic Review

A Darker Shade of Magic Review

You’re just here for the rating? Well, it’s 3.5 stars, but why not read on to find out why?

As anyone who has seen my Youtube channel will know, I posted my first review on Thursday, and I am aware that it is rather long and rambling >< I promise that I am working on my editing and format, so hopefully the next one (which is of The Secret History by Donna Tartt, and will be posted either on Thursday or Friday) will be more enjoyable. However, I still want to talk about the novel I discussed, namely A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab.

For those of you interested in YA fiction, you may already be aware of/have read her Archived series, or her Everyday Angel series, or one of her standalone works. I was a complete Schwab virgin (crikey, that’s a sentence I never thought I would write), but I read a Buzzfeed article which listed it, and it immediately pricked my interest. My mum bought it for me for Christmas, but I didn’t get around to reading it until last week, and I pretty much inhaled it! I really, really wanted to talk about this book.

Main characters:

  • Kell – A 21 year old man who is Antari (i.e. can use blood magic), and can traverse from one world to another, delivering messages as well as illicit trinkets. Hails from Red London.
  • Lila Bard – A 19 year old woman from Grey London. A cut-purse and aspiring pirate, she is drawn into aiding Kell through her lust for adventure.
  • Rhy – The 20 year old prince of Red London. Dashing and charming, he thinks of Kell as his brother.
  • Athos and Astrid Dane – Twins, and king and queen of White London. They are a force to be reckoned with, and nurture a yearning for power.
  • Holland – The Dane’s messenger, and the only other known Antari. Something about him always seems a bit off to Kell, but maybe that’s just White Londoners?

 

Plot Overview:

  • There are four Londons which exist in parallel universes: Grey, Red, White, and Black. Grey is our own London in 1819, during the reign of Mad King George III, and is a place of little magic. Red is rich in magic in resources, and is ruled by a just and good king and queen. White is a place starving for magic (which equals power), and seeks to dominate it rather than work with it. And Black has been destroyed, having been eaten up by magic running wild, and leading to the sealing off of the other world from each other by Red London.
  • The story centres on Kell, who delivers messages from the royal family in Red London to the ones in Grey and White, and illegally smuggles artifacts between worlds for his own collection, and for those interested in such trinkets.
  • He mistakenly acquires an artifact from Black London and brings it to Red, where he is attacked and is forced to escape to Grey. With Lila’s help, he must return it to Black London, while being pursued by enemy forces.

 

Elements that Furrowed my Field:

  • I felt that the concept, which drew me to it initially, was unique. The role of rare, dangerous blood magic has been seen in fantasy literature, and parallel worlds is a key feature in sci fi novels, but bringing them together worked so well, and with such effective simplicity.
  • The structure of the book is logical and works well. The first third or so builds up the world itself and introduces all the characters, so we know where we are before all the action kicks off, and we can then sit back and enjoy the ride.
  • The flipping of the narrative (standard third person format) between Kell and Lila (and occasionally other characters) works well, mostly because both of the characters are compelling and very different, and Schwab really manages to find the most gripping moments to switch.

 

Elements that Furrowed my Brow:

  • The plot is very fast-moving, and in some cases, it would have been nice to linger in places. At one point, a masquerade is held to celebrate Prince Rhy’s birthday, and Lila manages to land herself in a swanky male costume (as she is want to do). Instead of her immediately getting on with furthering the plot, it would have been nice to see her interacting in her usual sassy manner with all the posh guests.
  • While the book wraps the plot up very neatly at the end, it would have been nice to see elements of what will come in the next book, although this might just be how I like to read a series.

 

Summation:

  • Nice world(s), and great characters who I definitely want to meet again. I will definitely be purchasing the sequel, A Gathering of Shadows, sometime soon.

 

I hoped you liked my review! Have you read A Darker Shade of Magic? Do you agree with what I’ve said, or not? If you haven’t read it, does it sound like something that might butter your crumpet? Let me know!

Check back next week for my review of The Secret History by Donna Tartt, thank you for reading 🙂

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