Thursday, 23 October 2014

The Fallen, by Charlie Higson

I'm running out of ways to get across just how good this series is. I'm just blown away by the skill with which the simultaneous stories have been kept alive, even when two entire books can pass before the reader is reunited with a particular character. I love the way the chronology jumps around, posing questions then answering them, slowly revealing more pieces of the puzzle.

The Fallen, the fifth book in a series that will eventually have seven, sees the kids of the Natural History Museum teaming up with some new arrivals from the Holloway supermarket crews on a new and dangerous mission in the name of science. Maxie, Blue and their fighting crew arrive, fresh from their Palace escape just in time to rescue the inhabitants from an onslaught of grown ups. Suspicious of their impeccable timing and convenience, Justin, the leader of the museum asks them to earn his trust and prove their intentions by leading an expedition to find drugs over near the M4.
Together. they set off on an expedition to Heathrow to a business park that used to house a pharmaceutical company on a search for drugs, medicines and scientific equipment to aid their quest for a cure.

This book carries on the themes of scientific advancement and evolution from the last book as the remaining kids continue to learn more about the disease and start to recognise the evolving characteristics and behaviours of the adults. St. George and Shadowman are almost conspicuous by their absence, though we know they're out there somewhere, rampaging and observing respectively.

The narrative is kept to a pretty straightforward two in this book. We follow life in the Museum in the absence of the foraging party and the foragers on their ill-fated journey. Maxie stays behind with her friend Maeve and helps to re secure the museum and look after the younger kids. She becomes good friends with Brooke and demonstrates her skills as a fearless leader, little suspecting that there is a dangerously damaged (not to mention murderous) saboteur lurking on the rooftops of the Museum.  Meanwhile, Akkie, Blue, Mick and Ollie from the first book are leading the expedition party along with Einstein the chief scientist, his assistant and Lettis, a small girl dedicated to the recording of events. They're accompanied by an assortment of younger kids along for the ride and the glory, softened though they are by a year off the streets in the safety of the museum's galleries. Meanwhile Ed is out there in London, now with The Kid and Small Sam and a green fuzzed Grown Up in tow, attempting to come good on his promise to find Sam's sister Ella. A girl he has never even laid eyes on. He has to use the burgeoning information network that is beginning to become established across London to find his way. Maybe he'll even find out what happened to DogNut.

This is the first book that really starts to scrutinise the disease itself. If it really even is a disease. There's a whole host of revelations about its source and its effects, its escape from controlled environments so many years ago. Much of what's revealed in this book tallies up with Wormwood's ramblings from previous instalments-It's where Einstein and his scientists really start to learn what it is they're up against. There was a few chapters towards the middle of this book, specifically during the expedition to the Heathrow labs (where the adventurers see some of the disease's first hand effects) where I thought that this series had gotten away from Higson a little bit. It seems for a moment that it has escaped from gripping Survival Horror to full blown science fiction and for a while it seems it's just got too weird. But it quickly gets back on track. There's a time and place for normal and the apocalypse isn't it.

The Fallen starts to fill in some of the gaps that we were left with at the end of The Sacrifice. It starts to demystify much of the apparently delirious babble spouted by the mysteriously powerful Wormwood, the furry green adult that appears to have been domesticated by The Kid. His talk of parasites, jungles and The Green are clarified in a very Tod Browning-esque pop-up-theatre performance of the bizarrest kind. When two anomalies are telling the same story it sounds a lot more convincing- an adult that can speak and think and a bunch of mutant children that seem simply impossible can't both be lying about the same thing. As ever, the prose is pacey and electric- Higson strikes the perfect balance between getting across the bits you need to know without festooning it with unnecessary details. His decision to base the origins of the disease in science rather than the supernatural also wins him points from me. The Fallen raises the game really. The main groups of kids have been established (with a few odd-shaped additions in this case) and now all that's left is to bring their separate narratives together. The reader really gets the sense that things are heating up now. Some of the kids are starting to crack; they're turning on each other, losing their grip. The gaps between reality and the imaginary, between adult and child and human and inhuman are starting to disintegrate. As the kids start to gather information, to gain knowledge, there are more and more things that need explanations.

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