The Dead by Charlie Higson, is the second book in his zombie series, The Enemy.
I have reviewed the first book in the series, The Enemy, here.
In this second book, the action actually takes place a year before the events described in The Enemy.
The plot is much the same as the first book. The book opens with a group of children fighting adults who have been turned into flesh eating monsters by some unspecified illness/disease/virus, which only affects those over the age of fourteen. The children’s world has been turned upside down, as the adults succumb to the virus and gradually begin to fall prey to whatever it is that makes them want to eat the children.
Whereas the last book started in London, this book starts in a private school in Kent, where a bunch of boys are trying to fight off their teachers, and realise that staying holed up in school with no supplies, and where the teachers can easily pick them off, is no longer an option.
The children split into two groups, one of whom wants to make a break for the countryside and see if they can survive there, the other who heads into London. We follow each group on their journey and watch as they break apart, merge, and break apart, picking up stray kids along the way, and making their way through a post apocalyptic landscape in which things like disease, loneliness, hunger and lack of sleep are sometimes just as frightening as the monsters who try to prey on them.
Once the children get to London the storyline converges with some of the detail of the first book and you begin to see how the narratives fit together.
As before, this is absolutely a book for the teenage market, and is totally unsuitable for younger children unless they are very mature both emotionally and in their reading ability. I loved the book, as did my husband, who is now hooked on the series, and my fourteen year old daughter. We are now fighting over who gets to read the third volume first.
The story is fast paced and exciting. It is grisly and horrific, but what saves it from being mindless and rather repetitious is the thought that has gone into building such credible characters, and the thoughts that Higson puts into their heads, and the ideas they express.
The children in the book are forced to grow up quickly, and we see them on a really steep learning curve as they navigate their way through a world they could not have imagined being a part of. What I particularly like is the attention to detail Higson brings to the characterisation, throwing little hints and snippets of each child’s past into play so that you can see why they react the way they do to certain events, what makes them and what breaks them.
I like the fact that Higson is not afraid to kill off characters you have become attached to. I also like the fact that he explores the randomness of chance in situations where, sometimes, the unlikeliest people survive, despite the odds, and that he looks at what it takes to come through something like this.
The series is predominantly aimed and marketed at the boy reader market, but as with the last book, there are strong female characters here, and the skilful writing and plotting really makes it suitable for all readers old enough to cope with the high gore content.