Author: Charlie Higson
Genre: Young Adult, Horror, Speculative Fiction
Publisher: Hyperion (US) / Puffin (UK)
Publication Date: May 2010 (US) / September 2009 (UK)
Hardcover: 448 Pages (US)
In the wake of a devastating disease, everyone older than sixteen is either dead or a decomposing, brainless creature with a ravenous appetite for flesh. Teens have barricaded themselves in buildings throughout London and venture outside only when they need to scavenge for food. The group of kids living at Waitrose supermarket is beginning to run out of options. When a mysterious traveler arrives and offers them safe haven at Buckingham Palace, they begin a harrowing journey across London. But their fight is far from over — the threat from within the palace is as real as the one outside it.
Full of unexpected twists and quick-thinking heroes, The Enemy is a fast-paced, whiteknuckle tale of survival in the face of unimaginable horror.
Stand alone or series: Ostensibly the first in a series (I hope!), but can be read as a stand alone novel.
How did I get this book: Review Copy from BEA (signed, too!)
Why did I read this book: Let’s do a brief breakdown, shall we? Post-Apocalypse – check. Young Adult – check. ZOMBIE ADULTS – check.
Seriously, this book has “Thea” written aaaaaall over its gorgeous black sided pages.
Following the outbreak of a deadly virus, anyone above the age of sixteen has either died, or turned into a maurading, flesh-hungry, mindless creature – that is, a zombie. These adults aren’t truly zombies as they aren’t technically dead, but like 28 Days Later or the recent film adaptation of I Am Legend, they share the same sort of…joie de le vivre. The children left behind, terrified and untouched by the strange affliction that has turned their parents, older siblings, teachers and neighbors into ravenous beasts, have banded together. Gravitating to the supermarkets that their parents shopped at, the kids group and fortify the stores, and The Enemy opens with one of these groups, the Waitrose kids. Even with the walls they have rigged up, the grownups remain a constant threat and the first chapter opens with a breach and the loss of Small Sam, taken by the “moms” and “dads.” Maxie, the second in command of the Waitrose kids, mourns the loss of the young Sam and anxiously awaits the return of leader Arran and his scavenging party. All is not well with Arran, however, as he and his crew come into a skirmish with adults, and Arran is bitten. Reunited at Waitrose, they children regroup and rest, but then fate comes calling.
An unknown teenage boy in a patchwork coat calls for help outside their walls, and when they let him in, he has quite a story to tell. Jester, as the boy says his name is, comes from a group of children fortified in – no joke – Buckingham Palace. He claims that they have supplies, established order, and have even begun to grow food. Jester’s role is to seek out new recruits to join the palace, and he implores the Waitrose kids to set out with him. And, after a brief debate, the group decides to strike out for the city center, leaving the stagnant halls of the supermarket behind. Following Jester’s lead, the Waitrose kids team up with the neighboring Morrisons kids (the other grocery in the area) and make their way to Buckingham Palace. But what they find along the way, and at the palace itself isn’t all sunshine and ponies. As the kids’ numbers dwindle and tensions between the Buckingham Palace kids and the newcomers grow, it becomes clear that even though the zombie-like adults are the enemy, there are far worse dangers and evils among supposed allies.
I immensely enjoyed The Enemy, from dramatic opening sequence to its gritty conclusion. The plotting is deft, alternating between two separate main storylines – one following Small Sam as he bravely flees his captors, the other following Maxie and the Waitrose/Morrisons kids as they journey to (and ultimately reach) Buckingham Palace. In many ways, Mr. Higson’s novel is similar to Michael Grant’s Gone books – there’s the same fast plotting and tight action, the same large cast of young characters (though focusing on a central few), the same unspeakable horror – both supernatural and very sadly human. The Enemy manages to be action-centric (with no shortage of gore and gristle) as well as driven by strong, sympathetic characters, and surprisingly thought-provoking all at the same time. As this is a “zombie” novel (well, sort of), there is a copious amount of gore and violence, as is the genre’s prerequisite, but like the best works in the zombie canon, Mr. Higson manages to go beyond simple shock factor and poses some intriguing questions about human nature. One of the things I love the most about the aforementioned Gone books and holds true for The Enemy too is the explication of human nature each book holds – which is even more resonating as these stories are told through the perspective of children. Fear, cruelty power hunger, and violence know no age limits after all, and it’s very interesting to see how these children behave in a world without parents. Well, with parents that are intent on eating them alive.
It also bodes mentioning that Charlie Higson has created a very well conceived world with his version of the apocalypse. Starting a book post-apocalypse (as The Enemy opens long after the initial outbreak) is an interesting choice, but also means that instead of focusing on the initial chaos, The Enemy can focus on the equally interesting aftermath. I loved the idea that these children would naturally gravitate to the stores at which their parents shopped, and how they all banded together along those dividing lines. The images of a decayed London, the diseased adults overwhelming the Underground, sleeping in Wembley Stadium, and children taking over Buckingham Palace, it’s all deliciously evocative stuff.
But the most impressive thing about The Enemy is the strength of its characters. Mr. Higson casts a wide net with his protagonists – and in true ensemble cast fashion (ahem, Lost), he’s not afraid to kill his characters. This is both awesomely realistic, but also heartbreaking at the same time. Many a character falls in this book, and after getting to know these children, it’s a hard thing to say goodbye to them so suddenly. But, that’s the zombie apocalypse (well, sort of) for you, right? There’s nothing more infuriating in a disaster movie than to see every single one of the hero characters survive – and I’m very impressed with Mr. Higson’s resolve in this book. As for the characters themselves, Maxie and Small Sam are the clear favorites – the former for her strong yet sympathetic nature as a leader, the latter for his six-year-old innocence and bravery. That’s not to say that all the characters are sweet, angelic heroes, however – just as with any large group, each character has their positives and negatives. There’s the ruthless fighter Achilleus, the slippery wily Jester, the calculatingly intelligent Ollie, juvenile delinquent Freak…it’s a good mix.
And best of all? The Enemy ends with hope – for the kids, and for us readers, as there is a ton of room for a sequel. I can only hope that Mr. Higson has book 2 underway.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From the official excerpt:
The glass doors of the swimming pool were cracked and so covered with dust on the inside that it was impossible to see anything through them. Deke hefted his sledgehammer and took a swing, aiming for a spot next to the handles. The glass exploded with a bang and fell out of the frame in sparkling nuggets.
‘Cool,’ said Freak.
‘Yes it is,’ said Deke, who loved destroying things. In the early days, just after the disaster had happened, and before he understood the dangers, Deke had wandered the streets in delight – breaking, burning, smashing – hardly able to believe that there was nobody around to stop him and that he could do whatever he wanted.
That crazy, joyous freedom had been cut short when he’d discovered that not all the adults had died. And those who had survived would treat you far worse than any parent, teacher or policeman if they ever caught you. A parent might have grounded you, a teacher might have kept you in after school and the police might have arrested you, but none of them would have tried to eat you, like the grown-ups who wandered the streets these days.
He still got a kick out of destroying things, though, when he got the chance, which was why he often volunteered to join a scavenging party.
He stood back from the shattered door to let Achilleus see inside.
Achilleus leant in and looked around.
‘We’ll need the torches.’
They all carried hand-powered LED dynamo torches that didn’t need batteries. They quickly fired them up by pumping the triggers that spun the flywheels inside. After thirty seconds the torches were charged enough to give a good three minutes of light.
They stepped into the entrance lobby and shone their beams across the dirty floor and walls. Ahead of them was the reception desk. To the right, past a turnstile and low barrier was a small seating area that opened out on to the pool.
A wide passage led the other way to the changing rooms.
The reception desk was covered with cobwebs and the faded, peeling posters on the walls were from a different world. They showed smiling, happy children and talked of health and fitness and community activities. There were a few animal trails in the dust and debris on the floor, but no sign of any recent human activity.
‘Vending machines used to be through there,’ said Freak, nodding towards the fixed tables and chairs in the seating area.
‘We’ll take a quick look,’ said Arran, and, without having to be told, Achilleus led the way. He climbed over the turnstile and dropped into a crouch on the other side, spear at the ready.
One by one the others followed, Ollie bringing up the rear, torch in one hand, slingshot in the other.
They walked cautiously forward. As they moved closer to the pool they noticed a smell. The choking, rotten stink of stagnant water.
‘Aw, who’s farted?’ said Deke, holding his nose. Freak sniggered, but nobody else laughed. The pair of them liked to joke around to keep the fear away, but the others had their own ways of dealing with their nerves.
Achilleus was tensed and alert, ready for action, almost willing a grown-up to jump out at him. Arran tried to stand tall and appear unafraid, imagining he was casting a protective shield around his little group. Ollie kept glancing back over his shoulder. He was so used to watching their rear that he almost found it easier walking backwards.
‘That is an evil smell,’ said Freak.
‘Keep it down,’ said Achilleus.
‘Come off it, Akkie,’ said Deke. ‘If there was anyone here I think they just might have heard that bloody big bang as I took out the door.’
‘Shut up so’s we can listen, Deke.’
They shone their torches around the seating area where the vending machines had once stood.
You can read the full excerpt online HERE.
For more information about The Enemy, I highly recommend you check out the book’s website – loaded with goodies, including a zombie gallery and a way to zombify your own pictures. And of course, there’s the book trailer:
Verdict: Highly enjoyable, thought-provoking, and delightfully action (and guts) filled novel, The Enemy seizes you by the jugular and doesn’t ever let up. I hope there is more in the future for the kids of Waitrose – I’ll be first in line for the sequel.
Rating: 7 – Very Good, narrowly missing an 8 only because I *know* there is more to come from this series.
Reading Next: Go, Mutants! by Larry Doyle