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 Reading #36: The Compound July 7, 2010

The next entry on my dystopian fiction reading list is S. A. Bodeen’s The Compound.  I was pulled in by the back cover excerpt, definitely not by the less-than-inspiring cover…

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The Compound by S. A. Bodeen

Feiwel and Friends, 2008

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The use of the manhole cover doesn't match the "compound" idea. I'd have preferred to put the door of a vault instead...

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Courtesy of Amazon.com:

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Bodeen, acclaimed as the writer of such picture books as Elizabeti’s Doll, turns out a high-wire act of a first novel, a thriller that exerts an ever-tighter grip on readers. Eli, the 15-year-old son of a billionaire techno-preneur, has spent the last six years with his family in the massive underground shelter his father has built, knowing that nuclear war has destroyed the world he knows—and killed his grandmother and his twin brother, who couldn’t reach the compound in time. With nine years to go before the air outside will be safe to breathe again, the food supply shows signs of running out, but Eli’s father has a solution—provided they jettison all morals and ethics. Repulsed and already suspicious, Eli begins investigating his father’s claims, and sets up a family death match against a man who grows increasingly irrational and sinister but no less powerful. As far-fetched as the premise may be, Bodeen keeps Eli’s actions true to life and uses clues planted fairly and in plain sight. The audience will feel the pressure closing in on them as they, like the characters, race through hairpin turns in the plot toward a breathless climax. Ages 12-up. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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This is probably one of the best summaries I’ve seen for a book.  This really encompasses the major elements of the plot.

Strengths: This definitely IS a thriller, and a good one.  Bodeen creates a disturbingly real vision of a frightening question:  how would you survive if you were the ONLY survivors of a nuclear winter, and would you even WANT to?  It’s an uneasy question that hovers over the entire story, particularly when the mysterious “Supplements” enter the plot.  In some sense, the ending does seem a bit predictable; I saw it coming, but it was well-written enough that it didn’t bother me.  The real shock of the book hits you from nowhere in the MIDDLE of the story.  From that point, there’s a constant building of tension that is very well-crafted.

Potential Flaws: Superficially, the cover art doesn’t do the story justice, in my opinion.  A more fickle reader might walk by this one.  Covers are important.  And where I usually stumble across multiple versions of a cover, my searches only turned up this one.  As far as the story is concerned, there’s a bit of unbelievability about the ridiculous wealth Eli’s father must have.  However important it is to the plot (there’s no way the compound would exist without it) it’s just a little too convenient.

My Rating:

A tightly constructed, tense thriller.  A little too real for comfort, but hard to put down.

 

What I’m Reading #26: Paradise April 15, 2010

I’ve always loved good historical fiction.  Especially about time periods that I feel were a little neglected.  This book fit that criteria.

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Paradise by Joan Elizabeth Goodman

Graphia, 2002

Courtesy of Amazon.com:

From Booklist

Gr. 7-12. Based on a true story, this is an unromanticized, feminist version of adventure tales such as Robinson Crusoe and Swiss Family Robinson. When explorer Captain Jacques Cartier returns to France in 1536 with stories of great wealth in Canada, Sieur de Roberval sets sail for the Canadian wilderness. Among his passengers are his niece Marguerite; her serving lady, Damienne; and a stowaway, Marguerite’s great love, Pierre. During the voyage Pierre is discovered and cast into the sea and Marguerite and Damienne are abandoned on the Isle of Demons. Miraculously, Pierre lives, swimming ashore into Marguerite’s waiting arms. Thus begins the trio’s fight for survival. As the newcomers battle the mosquitoes (the true demons of the island) and the natives, they struggle to find food and shelter, and their paradise becomes a prison from which there is no escape. The author has fleshed out Marguerite’s story from several historical sources, altering it to be more hopeful but no less amazing. The book will be an invaluable addition to the literature about the colonization of the New World. Frances Bradburn
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved –This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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I found this particularly intriguing since the heroine, Marguerite de la Rocque, appears to have truly existed, and the ordeal Goodman recounts is fairly accurate (save some details and creative license).

Strengths: This book was well written for the intended audience.  This could have been a very ponderous novel, but Goodman narrowed the focus enough and kept the tone appropriate for her readers.  This was enjoyable for me, since I really was looking for something a little lighter (not FUNNY, just lighter).  Goodman really captures Marguerite in every sense: emotionally, physically, and spiritually.  Pacing of the narrative is consistent and well-developed throughout, without notable gaps or lapses in detail.

Potential Flaws: Nothing really that weakens the impact of the book.  If you’re looking for gritty realism, you won’t really find much of it here, although it’s definitely not a rosy picture Goodman paints.  The historical note at the end was woefully short, however.  I really wanted to know MORE about Marguerite than what Goodman provides.  If she did indeed consult several historical sources, I would think there would be more to share…

My Rating:

Solid and entertaining.  A fast read, very suitable for middle-grade readers.