The sixth and penultimate book of gore-laden, all bets are off; we'll kill anyone, insanely good The Enemy series. The Hunted places the extensively sought Ella at the centre of the story for the first time and documents her post-London adventures/traumas in the countryside. I like Ella as a character. She's spent so long beeing looked for, and she's so brave and headstrong that it's about time she got some action and some limelight herself, whether she wants it or not.
After leaving the relative safety of the Natural History Museum with Robbie, Monkey Boy and Maeve for a better life in the countryside, Ella now finds herself stranded in a tumbledown barn with a mysterious protector. Nicknaming her rescuer "Scarface", because of his grossly misshapen features, Ella is forced to conclude that the silent but apparently intelligent Scarface is some kind of new grown up that is decayed in body but not in mind. He is a ruthless and skilled killer of grown-ups and keeps Ella safe, fed and warm despite his less than brilliant communication skills.
Arriving at the Museum with Small Sam, The Kid and a band of his most loyal fighters, Ed is devastated to discover that Ella, the sister that Small Sam has spent the last five books searching for has left the night before. Gutted at missing her by less than 24 hours, he assembles a fresh motley crew made up of Tower Kids, Museum kids and Twisted kids and sets off in a hotwired van towards the M25 in the Slough direction, where Ella and her friends are rumoured to have headed.
In this book we begin to see what life is like in the rest of the country outside of what has been an intensely London based world so far. The brutal, scrappy settlements of kids in Winsor, Maidenhead, Slough and Ascot have got a Arthurian-ish pageant slash Gladiatorial arena set up, designed to entertain and to settle differences, as well as demonstrate their skills and abilities in the arena. A large part of the book covers the The Races, the various competitions and events that are exhibited for the pleasure of the 'King' (a different King this time) and his esteemed guests.
The Hunted uses a slightly different structure to the preceding books. Rather than switching between several simultaneous strands of the narrative and overlapping the events of other books, we follow a purely chronological series of events for the first time. The sixth book is definitely the most linear so far and certainly the most straightforward to read. It follows Ella's life in the countryside with Scarface, their defence of the barn from other kids and from the Army of The Fallen, the progress of Ed and his band and the races once they arrive where they are headed. There's a definite sense that things are starting to move more quickly, proper inroads are being made in the understanding and (presumably) defeat of the disease and that familiar tension that has been skilfully built up throughout the series has been ramped up once more. There's a plot twist that genuinely floored me- I love it when insignificant, forgotten events from ages ago turn out to be hugely important later on. It just makes sure the reader is paying attention. We also learn more about the disease and its origins and meet the first uninfected adults in about a year...
I can't wait for the last instalment. I know that Shadowman, King David, Mad Matt and his Cult, Wormwood and the Twisted Kids, Saint George and their various groups are all out there somewhere, despite not featuring greatly or not featuring at all in this book. We know that their stories are continuing somewhere off the page, left to their own devices and I'm anxiously waiting to see how all of their storylines converge for what promises to be an absolute showstopper of a book. Charlie Higson has stunned me with his storytelling knack, his ability to tightly weave seemingly unconnected stories together over time and his merciless imagination. He will kill off the nice kids, the mean kids, the annoying kids...whoever you most and least expect. My expectations are huge and I just so desperately want Ed to lead the kids of London to victory in what will be one of the goriest, most casualty ridden and most spectacular YA standoffs ever. I just can't wait for Sam and Ella to be reunited either. They will be reunited, right? You can't kill one of them off at the last hurdle!
I don't think I've anticipated a book so intensely since the last Harry Potter, and that is saying something. I've ordered the first two Young Bonds to tide me over while I wait...