A terrible disease is striking everyone over the age of fourteen. Death walks the streets.Nowhere is safe. Maxie, Blue and the rest of the Holloway crew aren't the only kids trying to escape the ferocious adults who prey on them. Jack and Ed are best friends, but their battle to stay alive tests their friendship to the limit as they go on the run with a mismatched group of other kids and one adult. Greg, a butcher, who claims he's immune to the disease. They must work together if they want to make it in this terrifying new world. But as a fresh disaster threatens to overwhelm London, they realize they won't all survive.
(blurb courtesy of Goodreads)
Having gobbled up The Enemy like the Grown-Up that I am (review here), I was delighted to have a copy of The Dead to get stuck into straight away. I expected more of the same, following the characters from The Enemy on their continuing journey, but The Dead while similar in style is a far deeper, more complex book.
Firstly, the events of The Dead take place a year prior to those seen in The Enemy. Secondly, we are introduced to a whole new cast of characters. This group are comprised mainly of boys from Rowhurst boarding school, situated about 25 miles south of London. When we first meet them they are barricaded in the school chapel and dormitories trying to fend of their teachers who, in turn are trying to eat their pupils. Again, Higson dives right into the nitty gritty of dealing with the diseased adults and does not shy away from the gore and horror – you have been warned.
As in The Enemy, the cast is varied in both age and sex, but while The Enemy changed between multiple points of view, The Dead tends to stick to just two – those of Ed and his best friend Jack. When we first meet them, Jack has hardened himself to a life of killing to survive while gentle Ed is struggling with the situation, instantly putting immense pressure on their friendship. This continues throughout the book and it was a pleasure to see the complexities of their relationship fully examined in such an interesting and subtle way. Cleverly, the author adds light-hearted Bam as one of the other elder boys in the group – he's a great character, one of those puppy-like Rugger boys who never seem to take anything too seriously. Often, it is Bam's character that releases the tension between Jack and Ed, reminding them of better times and revealing the core of their friendship. The rest of the group has some intriguing characters with prolific reader Chris being someone that I would particularly like to see more of in the future. The religious aspect as portrayed by Matt and his acolytes is pretty creepy, reminding me a little of Stephen King's The Mist, among others. Again, Higson has written some lovely younger characters with Wiki and Jibber-Jabber being particularly delightful. On escaping from the school, the boys find themselves rescued by an adult – Greg, a great bully of a man who has mysteriously escaped illness. Greg is just as sinister as the diseased adults, if in a more recognisable way which I found made him increasingly frightening.
The story arch itself is fascinating. The group finally make it to London, initially finding shelter in the Imperial War Museum – but London is burning, and it's not long before they have to start making some difficult choices. There are some amazing set pieces with the events in The Oval particularly standing out. The final stretch of the book is nothing short of epic – truly breathtaking. Higson combines hugely visual writing with quiet introspection in a way that could be incongruous yet never is. His use of London as a setting is excellent as the mix of old and new in the city becomes a terrifying post-apocalyptic landscape. Also, his writing is incredibly clever. Having read The Enemy recently, I quickly began to see how individual threads were being drawn together in The Dead – sometimes this gave me hope, or even made me laugh but mostly it sent chills down my spine. A particular mention of Arsenal football stadium brought about such a crashing realisation that I actually felt quite sick.
Finally, I have to say that Ed is – by a long shot – one of my favourite YA protagonists this year. His character development is absolutely believable and very moving. Despite his sometimes crippling fear, or perhaps because of it, he is massively likeable. It is a pleasure to come across a character who is inherently good and kind, yet also flawed. By the end of the book, Ed is one of the oldest characters that we have come across in this series so far and The Dead tracks his journey from a boy to a man with great finesse. The final scene of the book had me moved to sobs and I defy anyone to read it without a lump in their throat. Like The Enemy, I cannot recommend The Dead highly enough. A year is too long to wait for the final book in the Fourteen trilogy, but I suspect I will re-read the first two long before the wait is up.
Thank you to Puffin and Veronique at Colman Getty for sending me this title to review.
Next up on Week of The Living Dead...
A chance for you to win copies of both The Enemy and The Dead. Open internationally.