Monday, 28 July 2014

The Enemy, by Charlie Higson

I got so engrossed in this novel this summer that I actually sustained some of the worst sunburn I've ever had in my life- bubble blisters and the lot- because I couldn't put this book down. Now there's a testament if ever I heard one.

The Enemy is set in a post-apocalyptic London after a global epidemic of a horrifying sickness has reduced all people over the age of 14 into flesh-eating monsters. The remaining children have formed small bands of survivors all over England in an attempt to fend off the attacking adults and to increase their chances of survival. The story follows a group of survivors based in a Waitrose store, led by 13 year old Aaran and his right hand woman Maxie. They are becoming increasingly worried about the apparent increase in the intelligence of the attacking adults, they are getting smarter and they're picking off the little kids more easily. Waitrose is not going to sustain and protect them for much longer.

It's a brilliant combination of The Walking Dead and Lord of the Flies. But British, and with YouTube. How do kids cope in a world without adults? What if there are adults but they're fatally hostile? It's an action packed struggle for survival against the odds and against the people that are supposed to look after you, with additional themes of belonging, security, leadership and responsibility and the battles for power and dominance which have no age restrictions. 

Charlie Higson is such a brilliant, brilliant story teller, switching between the main Waitrose group (later allied and merged with the Morrison’s group) as they make their way across the grown up infested streets of London to the rumoured safe zone of Buckingham Palace, and the solo journey of Small Sam, snatched by the adults and taken to the Arsenal stadium as he makes his way to find them at the palace. The groups learn fairly quickly that safety always comes at a price, and in this case that price is manipulation and dictatorship. 

Higson looks at both the best and the worst personality traits that emerge in times of trial- it really is the only real way to ever discover what type of person you truly are. The leadership skills that only really reveal themselves under immense pressure, loyalty, cowardice, villainy and greed. Higson really does a brilliant job of distinguishing between those who want nothing more than to survive in modest security, and those hell bent on domination.

Each section ends with a breathless cliff-hanger and features all manner of escapes, rescues, battles and alliances. What I appreciated most of all was that none of his characters are bullet proof, which so often happens in survival fiction. There are characters that the reader is certain will survive that are killed off- nobody is safe. I love that Higson doesn't shy away from really going to town on some of the deaths, the gratuitous gore and some of the impossible decisions that these 12 and 13 year olds have to make. He's so good at creating these sympathetic, put upon teens that are just trying to keep their flocks together. He also has a brilliant knack for striking exactly the right balance between funny, horrific and the familiar things that modern teens will relate to. It all contributes to that horrible authenticity of the scenario.

It's a breathless, tense start to the series that really examines the nature of responsibility and leadership and the temptation of seizing control when the opportunity presents itself. Thoroughly engrossing, believable and full of genuine horror, I enjoyed it hugely and will definitely be reading the rest of the series. I am an absolute sucker for survival apocalypse stories, and this is such a brilliant take on the zombie genre.

Charlie Higson being a dude.

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