Monday, October 18, 2010

The Enemy by Charlie Higson

The EnemyYou might know the author for the Young Bond series, but in The Enemy, Charlie Higson (Hyperion) reaches for the tradition of Lord of the Flies and mixes it up with zombies, a touch of gladiator heritage, and the rough and tumble of a good action movie.

The story starts with a group of kids who have been living in the Waitrose grocery store, and they've built defenses and eaten up most of their food and figured out how to live, and that's striking in and of itself; a lot of the science/speculative fiction written for teens would have taken us through weeks of strange things happening and the downfall of society. Here, society's fallen already. Grown-ups stumble through the streets, their bodies disintegrating as they search for someone to eat, and while they're dangerous beings nowadays, they're slow and stupid, which gives the kids a fighting chance.

...they climbed one of the twin stairways. At the top was a statue of Perseus holding the Gorgon's severed head. Maxie was struck by how young Perseus looked, and how old Medusa looked. Maybe that was what the story was about. A boy killing an adult. The new world killing off the old.
When a strange kid shows up and tells the Waitrose group that they'll be safe at Buckingham Palace, they decide to take the chance and go with this Pied Piper. Once there, though, they'll have to grapple with a young leader who's got the royal zombie family captive--and who has plans to take over London. The thing is, the safer area around the palace is starting to be re-inhabited by grown-ups, and they're not as stupid as they used to be...

Higson doesn't pull punches: kids and zombies die, they use the kind of language you'd expect, there are no trustworthy adults to be found anywhere, they've fallen into roles prescribed by society--and they're not sure if or how to subvert these traditional roles. But there are also amazing moments of bravery, kids questioning evil, and breathtaking action scenes, and while I'm tagging this as SF (to me meaning anything in the science or speculative fiction family), there's a lot that closer to horror--and I'm not a fan of horror (or of zombies!), but I was engrossed from beginning to end.

The one thing lacking for me is some character connection; toward the end of the book, I felt that I knew a few, but I didn't want to; the chance that my favorites will be wiped off the page is high. The emotional moments fell a little flat in my reading as well. But I'm very interested in reading The Dark, the sequel that's already out in a U.K. edition.

I read this book as a first-round judge for the Cybils Awards, which means that I may have received a review copy from the publisher (or not; I own a lot of the books in this category). I read some books nominated for the YA fantasy and science fiction category in 2010 before the nomination period, and may have already reviewed them or declined to make a public review; these books might not have a Cybils post tag. As a first-round judge, I was tasked with helping create a shortlist of books. My personal reviews do not reflect any actions or discussions of the judging committee.


  1. On finishing reading any Charlie Higson book I am always left disappointed. The books just never seem to be as good as I think they could be.

  2. I liked this one, not because it was super deep or because the characters were so amazing, but because it's an exciting ride that made me laugh (despite the gruesome subject matter). I wouldn't have nominated if for a Cybil ... it's fun, though.

  3. Simon, I can see that, definitely. The action's there, the spinning out of plot, but I didn't feel very connected to the characters.

    I think I liked it for the same reasons you did, Susan, even if I didn't put it in quite the same words! I can see why someone might make it their Cybils pick--maybe because at the very least because horror is kind of out of fashion right now in YA. I remember when everything was all about Christopher Pike and R. L. Stine, and I wonder what kids are reading to fill in those gaps, or if they're just not reading YA...


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