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.