Mezzowriter's ReadWriter Blog

Reading, Writing, and The Search for Buried Gems of Literature

What I’m Reading #41: The Enemy July 31, 2010

I love horror movies.  Especially anything about zombies.  So when I found Charlie Higson’s book on a search on Amazon, I knew right away I had to have it.

A devastating disease has struck everyone over the age of sixteen.  Those who didn’t die from it have turned into decomposing, brainless creatures that survive by feeding on anything that’s still alive—including children.  Young survivors have barricaded themselves in supermarkets and other buildings, fighting off attacks from the grown-ups, who travel in packs, like hungry dogs.

The group of kids from a store called Waitrose includes fearless fighters, clever engineers, and wise leaders.  They are tight-knit and determined to survive, but they are running out of food and their scavenger hunts are growing more and more dangerous.  Marauding grown-ups are picking them off one by one.

Before long the Waitrose kids are offered a safe haven in Buckingham Palace.  They make their way to it, crossing London on a perilous journey that will test them in harrowing ways.  But their fight to stay alive is far from over—the threat from within the palace is as real as the one outside it.

Full of unexpected twists and quick-thinking heroes, The Enemy is a fast-paced, white-knuckle tale of survival in the face of unimaginable horror.   (Back cover excerpt)

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The Enemy by Charlie Higson

Hyperion, 2010

I picked up an ARC, so my cover was slightly different. Pretty run of the mill.

Another cover version. I'm not too impressed with the overly-sensationalist tagline at the bottom.

A third cover version.

Courtesy of Amazon.com:

From Booklist

The imagined zombie apocalypse has been the inspiration behind dozens of movies, books, and comics over the past decade, and though Higson adds few innovations, his gusto is something to behold. Eighteen months have passed since everyone over 16 succumbed to a virus that turned them into rotting, ravenous monsters, and there are enclaves of kids all over London eking out survival. Barricaded inside of a store, about 50 refugees have constructed their own society—which is shaken when a boy arrives spinning tales of a wonderful settlement housed within Buckingham Palace. The action from that point alternates between the group’s harrowing journey across the city and the grueling plight of Sam, a nine-year-old whose separation from the pack leads to an encounter with cannibals. Some of the characters feel like placeholders, but the action is of the first order—Higson writes with a firestorm velocity that inspires to the sweeping reach of Stephen King’s The Stand (1978). A muscular start to what looks to be a series. Grades 9-12. –Daniel Kraus

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So…

I really liked this story…the FIRST time I saw it, which was when it was a movie called 28 Days Later.

28 Days Later was released in 2002

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I couldn’t help but make comparisons while I was reading.  There are some pretty  notable parallels:

1.  Situation: A devastating, fast-spreading disease decimates the population, leaving few alive.  Minor variations between the book and the movie as to WHO survives and why, but otherwise, it’s the same conflict.

2.  Setting: London and other parts of England

This was one of the more striking things I noticed.

In 28 Days Later, Jim (played by Cillian Murphy) finds himself wandering lost in a deserted London. Note Buckingham Palace in the background.

The setting is completely deserted, with the remnants of a more civilized time left behind; supermarkets abandoned, cars left in an eerie graveyard of sorts in the streets…

More post-epidemic devastation

In both cases, I think the choice of England helps facilitate the notion of quarantine, isolation, etc.  Its “island status” makes it a little more believable that they could really be cut off from the rest of the world.

3.  Inevitable Decisions and Their Ramifications:

After realizing their living situation is really unsafe and becoming even more so, the small band of survivors is lured by a mysterious stranger/radio announcement  to make a dangerous journey to a “place of safety.”  (Read: Buckingham Palace/stately manor house in the country.)  Even though they know it will be EXTREMELY DANGEROUS, they band together and go anyway.

And encounter the grown-ups/zombies along the way.  Also some very frightful chase scenes in the subways/tunnels.

Being chased through London

Run! Zombies!

Following a harrowing trek, during which some of their friends are lost in battle, they arrive at their destination.  And meet David King/Major Henry West, the leader of a small band of survivors…

Leader of a suspiciously sinister power structure...

...who tries to present a sense of normalcy while hiding ulterior motives.

And the group realizes they are no safer than they were before.

Of course, chaos ensues, with the inevitable infighting and squabbling and rampant grown-ups/zombies:

The disintegration of order...

And so on, and so forth…

Of course, there are differences, such as the age of the protagonists, and the book’s lack of the sexual elements in the movie, but overall, the arc of the plot is VERY similar.

That being said:

Strengths: It’s definitely a high-action, fast-paced plot.  Battle scenes are vivid, and pretty gory.  However, they’re not really over-the-top for the zombie genre.  Characters are varied and well-developed, and for the most part extremely likable.  Also a plus is the presence of strong female characters who aren’t over-feminized and dependent upon the males.  Maxie is a great example.  I admired how well Higson translated the dissolution of order into a child’s society; it was reminiscent of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies in the breakdown of the group from within.  It’s a large cast of characters, which is difficult to manage well, but Higson handles it nicely.  He’s also not afraid to kill off characters where it seems to fit, regardless of how important those characters are, and to that I say bravo; it’s not easy to let go of a strong, well-liked character (sorry for the semi-spoiler, but I’m not telling you WHO).  Add some very high-tension side plots, and it is a tight narrative without glaring holes or inconsistencies.

Potential Flaws:

If you were hoping for a totally original story, you’re not really going to get it here.  As I’ve said, I felt like I was reading a young adult 28 Days Later.  Which isn’t necessarily a flaw in itself.  However,  if you DIDN’T like that movie, you’ll probably have a hard time with this book.

My Rating:

Fast-paced reading, strong characters, and a well-constructed plot tie this together despite the comparisons that tie it to the earlier and unrelated movie.  Enjoyable and disturbing at the same time, as long as you’re not bothered by predictable plots.

 

What I’m NOT Reading #1: 47 July 11, 2010

I don’t give up on books easily.  For me to cast a book aside takes a lot.  I’m always trying to find something redeeming in what I read.

I picked this up in the clearance section of Half Price Books.  That should have been my first clue.

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47 by Walter Mosley

Little, Brown and Company, 2005

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Pretty standard cover fare. Not gripping, but it WAS on clearance.

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Courtesy of Amazon.com:

From School Library Journal

Grade 7-10–The intense, personal slave narrative of 14-year-old Forty-seven becomes allegorical when a mysterious runaway slave shows up at the Corinthian Plantation. Tall John, who believes there are no masters and no slaves, and who carries a yellow carpet bag of magical healing potions and futuristic devices, is both an inspiration and an enigma. He claims he has crossed galaxies and centuries and arrived by Sun Ship on Earth in 1832 to find the one chosen to continue the fight against the evil Calash. The brutal white overseer and the cruel slave owner are disguised Calash who must be defeated. Tall John inserts himself into Forty-seven’s daily life and gradually cedes to him immortality and the power, confidence, and courage to confront the Calash to break the chains of slavery. With confidence, determination, and craft, Tall John becomes Forty-seven’s alter ego, challenging him and inspiring him to see beyond slavery and fight for freedom. Time travel, shape-shifting, and intergalactic conflict add unusual, provocative elements to this story. And yet, well-drawn characters; lively dialogue filled with gritty, regional dialect; vivid descriptions; and poignant reflections ground it in harsh reality. Older readers will find the blend of realism, escapism, and science fiction intriguing.–Gerry Larson, Durham School of the Arts, NC
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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I just couldn’t do it.  I did try.  But I’d sit down to read, chew through a bunch of pages, and then realize I’d only read about 8 pages.

I couldn’t buy into this book.  Sorry, School Library Journal.  I just don’t agree.  I DON’T “find the blend of realism, escapism, and science fiction intriguing.”  And I am a fan of speculative fiction.  This was just too out there, too far-fetched.  I made it to the half-way point before I gave up; it didn’t show signs of improving.

Further, it felt like Mosley was just trying too hard to deliver his message about freedom.  I do not like feeling like I’m being preached at.  The way I see it, you can send your message, or you can smash it and grind the broken pieces into my hand.  I’m going to enjoy one method a lot more than the other.

Sometimes you just have to walk away.

 

What I’m Reading #35: Leviathan July 5, 2010

I’ve always had a penchant for beautiful books.  Beautiful writing, beautiful illustrations, etc.  In this case I was absolutely NOT disappointed.

I’ve had Scott Westerfeld’s “Uglies” series in my TBR pile for quite some time.  After I moved to Arizona, they were lovingly boxed and are still in my storage unit.  I turned my attention to the books I DON’T have in storage and the books I stumble across in used bookstores.

I found a copy of Westerfeld’s Leviathan on Saturday.  I’d finished it by Sunday night.  All 440 pages of it.  What Ellen Hopkins does for verse novels, Westerfeld does for Steampunk.  I’m officially in love with it.

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Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Simon Pulse, 2009

B

Lovely metallic touches here...

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This is one of those covers that begs to be touched.  It’s rich and dark and steely.  I couldn’t keep my hands off it.  And when you open the book, the inside cover presents you with this:

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This is the kind of art that makes me want to STEAL books. But I resisted the temptation and paid for it…


Synopsis: (from jacket flap)

“It is the cusp of World War I, and all the European powers are arming up.  The Austro-Hungarians and Germans have their Clankers, steam-driven iron machines loaded with guns and ammunition.  The British Darwinists employ fabricated animals as their weaponry.  Their Leviathan is a whale airship, and the most masterful beast in the British fleet.

“Aleksander Ferdinand, prince of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, is on the run.  His own people have turned on him.  His title is worthless.  All he has is a battle-torn Stormwalker and a loyal crew of men.

“Deryn Sharp is a commoner, a girl disguised as a boy in the British Air Service.  She’s a brilliant airman.  But her secret is in constant danger of being discovered.

“With the Great War brewing, Alek’s and Deryn’s paths cross in the most unexpected way…taking them both aboard the Leviathan on a fantastical, around-the-world adventure.  One that will change both their lives forever.”

See more of the delicious artwork (by Keith Thompson) on Westerfeld’s website.

Other cover art:

An ARC cover, perhaps?

UK Hardcover

New Cover Art

And, not to be missed, the sequel, Behemoth:

Coming October 2010

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Ok.  Here goes:

Strengths: This book is like your favorite food; you want to wolf it down but know you need to savor it.  I wanted to sink my teeth into it and devour it.  Westerfeld creates his alternate reality, Steampunk vision of WWI in epic proportions.  Meticulously detailed, the two main plotlines converge upon each other without losing their individual character and strengths.  Seamless melding creates an even richer narrative, aided by Keith Thompson’s outstanding illustrations.  It’s visually sumptuous.  [As an aside here, I’d label this as a hybrid novel–your experience of the book is critically dependent upon the illustrations, but it’s FAR from being a picture book.]  Alek shines as a flawed and impetuous youth forced to become a man by circumstances wholly beyond his control.  Deryn is a spunky, edgy heroine with more courage than most of the men with whom she serves on the Leviathan.

Readers will find the world of the Clankers and the Darwinists irretrievably interesting.  Fans of Frank Beddor’s The Looking Glass Wars will be intrigued by the mechanical war machines of the Clankers.  The creations of the Darwinists, or “beasties,” as they are frequently referred to, pull the ideas of the present day back into a bygone era.  Further, the historical timelines of this period remain largely intact; the war is in fact started with the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and the alliances of the different powers mirror the reality.  As fantastic as the ideas are (particularly with the notion of the whale-ship Leviathan as a floating ecosystem), anyone who picks this book up will be sucked in.  Westerfeld combines historical accuracy and utter fantasy with amazing skill.

Skillfully written and richly envisioned, with effortless flow, particularly in action scenes.

Potential Flaws: I’d have to be reaching to find much wrong with this book.  On a superficial level, I’ll say I prefer the 2009 cover art to the new art which is designed to match Behemoth.  The new art makes me want to go watch Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.

The only hiccup in my reading dealt with the age of the characters.  Throughout the book, despite being told the age of the hero and heroine (15-16), I simply could not see them at that age.  It seemed more appropriate to view them as younger, perhaps aided by Thompson’s illustrations.  I was quite happy to envision them as younger, so much so that when Deryn begins to react differently to Alek, I was knocked a bit askew.  Call it a continuity problem.  To me, this was the only wrinkle in an otherwise outstanding tale.

I know.  I’m reaching.

My Rating:

Rich and gritty at times, solidly constructed on a fascinating premise, and full of believable characters.  A delightful balance between fantasy and reality and Steampunk.