September 12, 2010

This Be The Verse (Review: The Enemy; C Higson)

The Enemy
Charlie Higson
Puffin 2010

They'll chase you. They'll rip you open. They'll feed on you...When the sickness came, every parent, policeman, politician - every adult - fell ill. The lucky ones died. The others are crazed, confused and hungry. Only children under fourteen remain, and they're fighting to survive. Now there are rumours of a safe place to hide. And so a gang of children begin their quest across London, where all through the city - down alleyways, in deserted houses, underground - the grown-ups lie in wait. But can they make it there - alive (blurb courtesy of Goodreads)

I initially approached this book with some trepidation. Mainly I was concerned that the protagonists would be too young to carry a post-apocalyptic storyline. However, I was keen to have a look as I'd heard good things about the author, who is hugely popular with British teens. I often feel that I read almost exclusively American authors and have decided to try out some UK authors that I've not tried before. Also, this book has a distinct selling point – zombies! I do love me a good zombie!

In actuality, the enemy of the title aren't actual zombies in the reanimated corpse tradition, but adults afflicted with a mystery disease that has swept across the world with frightening speed. Many died instantly, but many didn't and those who did not have been left feeling rather... hungry. Not to mention visually less than desirable. The only people immune to infection were children aged 14 or under when it first hit. These kids have been desperately fighting to survive (not to mention grow up) for a year when we are first introduced to a bunch of them who have holed up in a London supermarket. Waitrose, no less – it's where I'd go to, even their canned food is yummy. But I digress.... Story wise, Charlie Higson takes no prisoners, jumping straight into the fray with a group of teens out scavenging for food. After a fairly disastrous forage, they return to base only to find a newcomer bearing news of further survivors living in relative comfort in Buckingham Palace (I know, that would be my second choice after Waitrose). Concerned that their diseased elders appear to be becoming less mindless and more dangerous, the Waitrose kids team up with their supermarket neighbours (Morrison's, not so posh) and begin the short yet frightening trek across London. Running concurrently to this is a separate storyline following a boy taken from the group by some of the more mindful zombies – while his story takes up less of the book than that of the older kids, it is hugely sinister and I suspect vital to the plot of the ongoing series.

There is no point pretending that The Enemy is anything other than relentlessly bleak and often pretty frightening. The characters have all suffered huge personal loss and often find themselves foundering in depression and confusion. The older children struggle in the leadership roles thrust upon them merely by merit of age, while the youngest often seem unable to shake off their utter bewilderment at the life they are now asked to lead. Higson has created some very believable characters. From principled Maxie and compulsive Achilleus to tough, dictatorial Blue, tired Arran and analytical Ollie, they all got under my skin. The narrative switches POV from character to character, allowing the reader to gain a detailed understanding of the group as a whole. Particular woot woots to Small Sam and The Kid – their exhausted trek through London's financial district is nothing less than haunting, and had me in tears. I'd quite like The Kid to live on my street, actually. In a grim, grim London, he is a creation of utter joy and should appeal to the child within everyone. I also enjoyed the character of David. His mantra of “we're all in this together” has recently been taken up (unintentionally, I'm sure) by a high profile British politician and his general similarity to members of the UK government made me smile and wince in equal measure. Incidentally, I have a sneaking suspicion that Charlie Higson is not a Royalist... but you'll have to read the book to find out why...

The adults themselves are pretty awful. Higson does not shy away from horror and gore, and neither he should; the story would be inauthentic were the diseased only a peripheral threat. The zombies are lent a particularly unsettling edge by the fact that the kids refer to them as the Mothers and the Fathers, collectively The Grown-Ups. This has the duel result of turning words that should represent safety and comfort to those of fear and disgust while also reminding us just how young the protagonists are. While undeniably dark, The Enemy does have some moments of light. The bonds that form between the children are delicate rays of hope and the growing morals and principles of the leaders are heartening to see. There are also some great moments of humour. At one point a character comments that there can be nothing positive about their situation and another responds that “at least Big Brother ain't on no more”. Indeed.

Overall, I enjoyed The Enemy very much and far more than I expected to. The writing is clever, the characters moving and the plot gripping from the start. I highly recommend that those of you who haven't read it pick up a copy. Particularly in light of the fact that sequel, The Dead (review coming soon), will be in bookshops this week. It would particularly appeal (although by no means exclusively) to fans to Michael Grant's Gone. Having already read The Dead, I can guarantee that the story only gets better and I certainly cannot wait to find out what is going to happen in book three of this particular zom-pocalypse.

Thanks to Puffin for sending me this title to review.

Next in Week of The Living Dead...
Donna from Bites muses on the concept of zombie love.  Or necrophilia. If easily offended, then stay away - the rest of you get ready for some exceptionally good advice.


Amelia Robinson said...

Whoa. I admire your courage. Post-apocalypse books scare the willies out of me, or I tend to shy away from them. The only post-apocalypse/dystopia books I read are the Hunger Games.

Awesome review. :)


Donna said...

Please tell me it's explained why kids 14 years and younger weren't affected. I don't care how good the book is. If that isn't explained, I'd hurl it across the room.

Splendibird said...

Donna - they haven't explained it yet, but it is the first in a three book series and I believe that he is going to address it in the end. They start to edge around the topic in the second book.

Clover said...

I absolutely loved this one and cannot wait for The Dead! I'm so surprised by how much I enjoyed it..

Teri Hall said...

I am just so happy to see the Larkin reference--well done! :)

Also, very nice, thoughtful review.

Splendibird said...

@Teri - Thanks! I wasn't sure if it quite worked, but the first line of the poem (which can be used extremely literally when it comes to this book!) was too long for a title...

@Clover - you are going to LOVE The Dead as it's even better than the enemy. Review coming on Wednesday of this week.