The Enemy by Charlie Higson (who also wrote the Young Bond series) is the first in a series, also entitled The Enemy, about zombies, set in London and written for the YA/Teen market.
The books are definitely not suitable for a pre teen market, unless you are confident that the child you are recommending them to has very sophisticated reading habits and is going to sleep well at night after reading these. The books are very violent and extremely blood thirsty.
They are however, utterly gripping, and very well written, which means that should you be of an age to appreciate this kind of material, and zombies are your bag, you will probably love them.
Someone suggested to me that the books are like ‘Lord of the Flies’ meets ‘Dawn of the Dead’, and you can’t really say fairer than that.
The books are clearly aimed at a male market, but there are some good, strong female characters in the books, and I think they are perfectly suited for both boys and girls.
Technically these are not true zombie novels, as the zombies in question are not actually undead, but it is a technical niggle which I was happy to get over, and which the author also addresses in his book, just to take care of any lurking pedants. Zombies, however, really are the best way to describe the monsters who inhabit the pages of these books.
I started reading them because Higson and The Guardian are currently holding a competition in which people are invited to make a film show casing Higson’s latest book, ‘The Sacrifice’. I have blogged about it here.
My fourteen year old wanted to make a film so that she could enter the competition, and I wanted to see what the books were like, and whether she would wake up having screaming nightmares or not.
She might – she hasn’t yet, and we both loved the first book.
The premise of the book is that a kind of plague/disease has swept the world and affected everyone over the age of fourteen. Nobody knows where it has come from or whether it is still around, waiting to infect any children who are left and who survive to the age of fourteen. Life is precarious and scary.
Most people over the age of fourteen simply died, but there are pockets of people who have survived in a fashion. The survivors have been altered beyond all recognition, rotting slowly away and changing into shambling, flesh eating creatures, who prey on anything still alive. There are very few creatures that have survived their attacks, and now it is feral dogs and children who roam the streets, trying to avoid being eaten by the zombies.
The Enemy starts about two years after the initial catastrophe has befallen the world. All easily available food is now gone, and surviving children have formed gangs who scavenge for food and fend off the zombies as best they can. The story begins with a description of a scavenger party who make up a tribe of children who live in a branch of Waitrose on Holloway Road in London.
Events do not play out as planned, and the children begin to realise that the zombies are gradually changing and becoming more organised and consequently, more dangerous. After a particularly disastrous series of events, the Waitrose children gang up with the Morrisons’ children and follow a ragged boy across London to Buckingham Palace where he promises them that things are very different and that the promised land awaits them.
The story splits narratives at this point and follows the fortunes of various groups and individuals as they trek across London. Their paths intertwine at different points in the book, and then they go their separate ways again.
It is clear, from the ending of the book that this is the start of a series. Nothing is really resolved or tidied up, and certain narrative threads are left hanging, waiting to be finished in the later volumes.
The writing strikes a brilliant balance between violent fight scenes and chases fit for a horror film, and thoughtful passages about what it is really like to be in a post apocalyptic world like this. How it feels for a child to kill someone, how it feels to miss a parent or a sibling, or the life you had before. It asks difficult questions about the future, and there are no pat answers. I thought it was a brilliant piece of writing as it appeals to those who want an exciting adventure story, a gripping horror novel, and/or a clever piece of writing about what childhood really is.
This may sound silly, given that I am writing about what is essentially a horror novel, but nostalgia for what is gone is one of the central, linking threads of this narrative, and the toggling between the children’s current reality and what they left behind, and what they have to put aside in order to simply survive, make this a pretty poignant read at times. It is a thoughtful horror novel, in which the sense of horror becomes heightened, because there is something tangible, real and emotionally charged behind it. In this way it reminded me quite strongly of John Wyndham’s novel; ‘Day of the Triffids.’
You can find out more about Higson on his website, here. As with the books, the content of the site is not suitable for pre teens.