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.
Over the years I've read more than a few things by Mike Carey. From his fun run on Hellblazer through Lucifer, Unwritten, various one shots and assorted library rentals to his 5 Felix Castor novels. For the most part they are well worth reading I do have a real preference for his sci-fi / horror work to his superhero stuff (which pretty much applies across the board for me). So, when I heard about this new novel I was tentatively intrigued.
As much as I enjoyed the Castor books they did feel a little like they were an extension of his work on Hellblazer just with extra added man on penny whistle action and after 5 of them I didn't really want to read another. So, I had checked up just enough to know that it wasn't part of that series but knew nothing other than that little bit in italics up there ^. The title and cover image had me thinking that what we had here was a sort of 'Chrysalids' or 'Midwich Cuckoos' sort of thing but on reading it becomes quickly apparent that it's far more of a 'Day of the Triffids' deal.
It tells of Melanie, an unusual girl in unusual circumstances who has lived her short life alternately alone in a cell or strapped to a wheelchair in a classroom until, along with her favourite teacher, two soldiers and her least favourite scientist, she is forced into travelling across a post apocalyptic England.
Melanie is a warm hearted genius, deeply besotted by both learning and Miss Justineau - the only adult who has ever shown her any compassion. She is unaware of her own history or why she is kept strapped to her chair at gunpoint. When the circumstances change she becomes capable and savage in equal measures; unsure of the truths being revealed to her but acknowledging, processing and embracing them.
The other characters are very much stock supporting cast - hard bitten sergeant, nervous recruit, noble teacher and devious scientist - and there very much to provide purpose to Melanie's physical journey and partly her mental one although in many ways the Melanie we end the book with is simply a more experienced version of the one we meet at the start, still a romantic dreamer trying to, if not cram the lid back on Pandora's box, then at least to civilise it's contents.
I'm not entirely convinced I'm in sync with all the gushing plaudits that litter the books cover but it certainly was an engaging read. It felt like a hark back to the days when British authors seemed to take an inordinate amount of pleasure in ending the world in a multitude of imaginative and unusual ways. This is, in the opinion of this reviewer at least, a fine thing as I love those books and if you share my feelings then I think this is a journey you'd also enjoy.