Wednesday, 22 October 2014

The Sacrifice, by Charlie Higson

The Sacrifice, Charlie Higson, The EnemyThe Sacrifice is the fourth book in The Enemy series and we have a pretty established cast of characters by now. This breaks the pattern of the preceding books in the series in that it doesn’t introduce a new cast, instead the book begins to further develop those we have already met. This is where Higson has woven his web, now he’s beginning to pull the strands together. London, the World for what matters, is becoming smaller as contact is established between the groups. Community is reborn in a fashion. This book sees a watershed in the narrative where the focal point of the series ceases to be coming to terms and coping with the new world, instead shifting to making sense of it and the pursuit of answers.

This book focuses primarily on two related stories and on one apparently separate one. The Sacrifice continues the chronology, following immediately after the events of The Fear. It begins to look at the development and evolution of the adults and the disease that has changed them beyond recognition and turned the world upside down.

After being taken in at the Tower of London, the Kid and Small Sam are keen to get back on the road to the Natural History Museum in search of Ella, Sam’s sister from whom he has become separated. Nice guy Ed, star of the second book isn't keen to let them go as it would mean going through the No Go Zone and that’s just suicide. However, they slip away after encouragement and persuasion from Tish, a green-clad girl that Ed rescued from grownups. The three of them head off towards Kensington. Their journey and their eventual (unexpected) destination is one half of the main story, and we find out what some divergent characters from The Dead  have been getting up to for the last year.

Realising that they have put themselves in danger by leaving the tower and reluctant to lose any more kids after the disappearance of DogNut, Ed sets off with a small rescue party of loyal fighters to find Small Sam and The Kid. Stopping off at the Houses of Parliament, he discovers the existence of a sort of information exchange between settlements of kids and the hunters that destroy adults on a mercenary basis. It’s here he meets Nicola at Westminster and learns not only that DogNut passed through recently, but that Small Sam and his friend are not on their way to the museum at all, but have seen sighted near St. Paul’s Cathedral. He also learns of David’s settlement at the Palace and the expatriates that have fled his regime. Ed’s group’s pursuit of Sam and The Kid and their dramatic rescue make up the other side of the group-based story.

Separately, Shadowman has continued to track The Fear singlehandedly through London, observing them, learning their behaviour and gathering intelligence on them. The adults are beginning to display some signs of organisation- setting traps, using weapons, displaying a herd mentality- survival of the fittest. Naturally this disturbs Shadowman greatly. I really liked the accidental lapses in Shadowman, when he catches himself off guard almost feeling proud of The Fear, impressed by their strength and organisation. I'm increasingly intrigued about Shadowman’s character in general. Inherently mysterious, he’s obviously an incredible survivor, intelligent and resourceful and he’s demonstrated both a detached and hardened exterior and a surprisingly heroic side. He's a contradiction and an enigma. What intrigues me most is his peripheral nature. The main story wouldn't be hugely different without him, but the amount of time invested in his narrative makes him seem incredibly important. I look forward to seeing where Shadowman is going.

Another aspect of this book that really caught my imagination was the religious themes. Being a huge extremist, Mad Matt, Pope of the religion of The Lamb really has change to flex his crazy muscles in this book. His pomposity, his arrogance and his fundamentalism lead him to make some really dodgy decisions- decisions that are not seen only in Theocracy but in Military rule too. But I liked that the scared 14 year old showed through sometimes. It’s something not communicated very often- that religious extremists might have a scared and confused person inside that just wants someone to tell them to stop. Is it important that the two primary themes are evolution and religion in this book? Is that intentionally polarised? Is Wormwood, the monster living underneath St. Paul’s some kind of bridge between the two? I honestly can't wait to find out.

Not as character driven as the previous instalments of the series, The Sacrifice definitely gives the reader the sense that things are heating up. The adults are evolving, the settlements are all up to their necks in their own problems and conflicts. David is trying to take over the physical World, Matt the Spiritual one. The politics of power have remained dangerous and contaminating throughout. The kids are starting to ask questions about the disease, they’re starting to get a grip on the new world, establish an order, get things organised. But unfortunately so are their advisories. The adults in this fourth book are truly terrifying. They've stopped simply being gross and dangerous and have become eerie and uncanny, automatons in some cases. It’s just getting weirder. I'm continually baffled by the breadth of the narrative in this story and the skill with which the separate strands are all developed, reigned in then combined. To have so many plates spinning and to still leave the reader gagging for more is a pretty incredible feat. I'm sad already to have passed into the concluding half of the series. Two more books to go!

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