Saturday, June 04, 2011

Book Review: The Enemy by Charlie Higson

Book: The Enemy
Author: Charlie Higson
Published: 2010 (US)
Source: Local Library

Ever since the first teenager walked the earth, adults have been the enemy. But now, when a mysterious ailment has transformed everyone over the age of sixteen into a mutated, cannibalistic creature, it's the truth. Kids have banded together for survival, battling the grown-ups, scavenging for food, and praying to make it to tomorrow without becoming lunch.

For a little group holed up in a Waitrose supermarket, despair is encroaching fast. So when a mysterious boy turns up with the news that there's a substantial community of kids not only living but thriving at Buckingham Palace, they decide to take the chance and journey through London to the shimmering possibility of safety.

But when they arrive, the leader of the Palace kids seems an awful lot like a power-hungry madman. Now they have to ask themselves . . . are the grown-ups the only enemy?

Time: 2:16:57
Why I Wanted to Read It: I kept hearing such good things, from bloggers I trust.

Zombie books are one of those things I have a conflicted relationship with. On the one hand - ooo, post-apocalyptic! Fighting! Danger! High-intensity drama! And, duh, zombies. On the other hand, bloody depressing, and I mean that literally.

This isn't precisely a zombie book: after all, the grown-ups aren't dead, although they're certainly not what they were. But it shares much of what makes true zombie books so depressing: the feeling of insurmountable odds, not being able to trust anybody even when you desperately want to, seeing the people you loved and depended on either reduced to monsters or killed by those same monsters.

Higson doesn't pull punches with the deaths, y'all. In general, authors tend to kill off secondary characters, but Higson brings the horror home by spending time, even telling pieces of story from a character's point of view, and then killing them off. The end result is that even when good things happen, or hope flickers, there's a cynical little worm in your head saying, "This kid's gonna bite it." And half the time you're right. It brings you into the wearily fearful mindset of the characters more powerfully than any other technique.

Higson also uses his setting to explore human nature, in all its power-hungry, cowardly, underhanded, generous, loving beauty. Anybody who's ever thought that kids are somehow morally superior to adults will have that notion struck down, and anybody who's ever thought the reverse will have the same experience.

It's a disturbing book in a lot of ways, not for the sensitive. The Nick-and-Rachel sequence will give you the severe jimjams, and the way the kids use "mothers and fathers" to refer to the attacking grownups makes you both sad and a little queasy. But I couldn't put it down, and the only reason you're seeing this post now instead of sometime very late last night is because I had to work today. I have the prequel The Dead as an e-galley, and given the ending of The Enemy, I'm looking forward to a sequel soon. Very soon. You hear me, Higson??

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