The Enemy by Charlie Higson
“They’ll chase you, they’ll rip you open, they’ll feed on you…”
I have a confession to make. I’m thirty six years old and when I first decided to do a zombie themed month on The Eloquent Page I didn’t even consider including any young adult fiction. In the last couple of years I have read exactly two books that could be described as YA fiction. Both were pretty good, and I’ll be reviewing one of them next month but I never thought something like zombie fiction could really exist for a younger readers. Let’s be honest, flesh eating killers tend not to be the most upbeat bunch. In my experience, a lot of zombie fiction isn’t really what you would consider ideal for a younger audience. I guess, in hindsight though, that is the challenge – creating a zombie novel that does work for teens.
Initially, I was somewhat sceptical of The Enemy by Charlie Higson. A couple of years ago I tried to read Silverfin, his first Young James Bond novel and failed rather epically. It’s not that the book was bad, I just tried to read it at a time when I could not give it the attention it deserved. Ironically, I have had similar experiences with Ian Fleming’s Bond novels as well. Perhaps it’s just Bond in general I have issue with? That, and the fact I am about twenty years older than the target market.
The good news is that The Enemy was a completely different experience. I was able to focus on it over the course of a couple of days and found the story to be both moving and enthralling in equal measure.
Set in London a year after a viral outbreak has turned all adults into flesh craving monsters, the novel tells the story of a group of children hiding out in a Waitrose supermarket. Their existence is constantly threatened by roaming groups of ‘mothers’ and ‘fathers’ as the infected have come to be known. Into the group’s midst arrives Jester. He is part of another group of children living comfortably in Buckingham Palace. Jester invites the children to come with him back to the relative safety of the ex-Royal household. The rest of the novel describes the children’s difficult journey to what could be their new home.
The characterisation is just superb. I think Charlie Higson has created a very believable group. The older children are forced to act like grownups but occasional lapses prove they are all still terrified children at heart. There are a number of characters that stood out, but for me, there was one who elevated the whole experience of reading the novel. Small Sam is only nine years old. He is kidnapped by a group of adults and, after a daring escape, spends a large chunk of the novel trying to get back to his younger sister and the rest of his friends. Sam’s story, as he moves from one horrific situation to another is utterly gripping. Though he is only nine he steadfastly refuses to give in to the gnawing horror the surrounds him. At one point he is in the London Underground system, alone, and is forced to confront some most unpleasant survivors. This whole section of the story very effectively portrays the sense of claustrophobia and panic that Sam was experiencing. It was genuinely creepy. I empathised with Sam as I have two young nephews and Sam’s plight affected me more because I couldn’t help imaging them in his situation. The horror for adults reading this book is the world that is left after the outbreak. Imagine the children in your life having to fend for themselves without your protection.
Unexpectedly, in Zombie Appreciation Month, The Enemy is one of the grossest zombie books I’ve read so far. I really didn’t expect so much pus and face melting. There is a little swearing as well but really no worse than your average PG-13 film nowadays.
Overall I’m pleased to say that The Enemy met the challenge I mentioned earlier. Charlie Higson has crafted a superb novel that may just be the perfect introduction for a teen who wants to read about zombies.
The sequel, The Dead, is already available.