In the fall of 2012, an anthology of classroom paranormal short stories edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni L.P. Kelner and titled AN APPLE FOR THE TEACHER, was released by Ace Books. While all the stories were well received, the anthology was meant to showcase a Sookie Stackhouse short story by Harris. But it was another seemingly insignificant story buried within the collection that immediately overshadowed Sookie and began attracting acclaim. "Iphigenia in Aulis" by M.R. (Mike) Carey was the thirty-six page post-apocalyptic story of Melanie, a young girl imprisoned in a military installation and obliged to attend daily schooling. Melanie's criminal-like restraints (she is transported to and from her cell strapped to a wheelchair) were at disconcerting odds with her apparent kind and docile disposition, creating questions and tension from the very first paragraph. Hints of a devastating infection and threats from outside the compound abounded, but what made the short story so fascinating was Melanie. The story is from her point of view, so the reader understands her gentleness, innocence, the abiding love her teacher has for her - yet she and the other children are distinctly viewed by others within the compound as a clear threat to everyone's safety. Why? When the compound is attacked by those horrendous outside threats, the choices that are made parallel the ancient myth of Agamemnon and his daughter Iphigenia as the story hurtles toward a startling climax.
Carey's short story captured wide-spread attention. Enough to encourage him to develop "Iphigenia in Aulis" into a full-fledged novel. He did so and everyone is talking about it. It's called THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS.
Carey's expanded novel could easily have gone the way of a straight post-apocalyptic thriller. An infection run amok, a world destroyed, danger lurking around every corner, and a handful of characters who must make their way through this carnage ("It's like God never bothered") following the attack on their military compound to safety. Yet Carey resisted that commercialization and that is precisely what makes The Girl With All the Gifts a unique and compelling story. While the thriller elements are present, Carey chooses instead to focus on full character development, born out of what he refers to as his "...huge admiration for works of fiction that don't leave anyone else behind, that give as much respect and admiration to the supporting cast as they do the lead."
And this is precisely what he accomplishes. Each character is presented in their emotional entirety. Themes - especially the overriding themes of ends justifying the means and whether mankind is essentially good or evil - are ripe for the picking throughout the novel, provoking endless conflict for characters and the reader alike.
Following the attack on their military installation, the small handful of survivors - including Melanie, her beloved teacher Miss Justineau, the embittered military veteran Sergeant Parks, naive Private Gallagher, and the scientist determined to find a cure for the mysterious infection no matter what the cost, Dr. Caldwell - have no choice but to attempt to make their way to a larger military installation in Southern England. Melanie's "gifts" are revealed along the way as she forges a deep relationship with not only those she is traveling with, but the reader as well. The simplicity of the plot underscores the complexity of the characters and the themes making for a beautiful contrast.
Were it not for the impressive characters and themes, this novel would be swiftly relegated to the ranks of forgettable post-apocalyptic cheap thrill rides. Carey transcends the genre with grace and aplomb making The Girl With All the Gifts a rare gift indeed, making this novel one of the best I've read this year.