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Nessa's Thoughts

Just a British girl who reads a bit too much.

Currently reading

The Dead Zone
Stephen King
The Diving Bell And The Butterfly
Jean-Dominique Bauby
Clarissa, or, the History of a Young Lady
Samuel Richardson, Angus Ross
Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison
Piper Kerman
The Cuckoo's Calling
Robert Galbraith

Enemy, the

The Enemy - Charlie Higson Once upon a time in a land far away, your friendly neighbourhood reviewer Vanessa read a book called Gone by Michael Grant. It did not end well.She gleefully picked up three of the Gone books in a box-set for £10 on her first ever visit to CostCo. She read the first one, was not amused, and the rest have been duly shipped off to the local library collection.Vanessa wrote a review of it (here), but in summation, it was a clever idea that meandered far too much and wound up turning incredibly strange. A child who lost his arm grows back a red tentacle. A girl left starving in the desert for days finds that coyotes can talk and have organised themselves into a society and there's also some entity of darkness controlling them and lurking in a cave. Deus ex severely autistic little brother who can teleport everyone when the going gets tough. Deus ex 'oh my god I have superpowers all of a sudden.' You get the idea.Why is Vanessa making the comparison to Gone? Well, let me explain. Apologies for the abuse of third-person perspective.The Enemy by Charlie Higson solved the main problem I had with Gone. Both stories feature children trying to survive after society goes to hell and leaves them to fend for themselves, and that's where the similarities end. My problem with Gone, however, was that I simply did not care about any of the characters, and it got more than a little batshit and completely lost me in the last 200 pages.The Enemy, however? I was sobbing and nearly chucking my copy of the book across the room when a character died, getting seriously scared whenever anything bad was happening (like poor Small Sam's escape out of a zombie-infested football stadium and from cannibals keeping him prisoner in an abandoned train), and yelling “No” over and over if somebody had to face the consequences of walking into a trap.You see, very few books do that to me. In fact, the last time I was shrieking and flailing like that at the decisions and outcomes of a character, clucking like a mother hen for a character I really didn't want to see dead or injured in any way... was Patrick Ness' Chaos Walking trilogy. And that's a pretty big acclaim, Mr. Higson. Your crown (which I didn't pilfer from a Burger King children's party, honest!) is on its way in the post.The story of The Enemy follows a group of children, trying to survive in a world where 'grown-ups' – also referred to as 'Strangers' – have become zombies. And what horribly, creatively disgusting zombies they were. Boils and pustules all over their sweaty, pungent, feverish skin, burst eyeballs, gormless, hanging jaws with shards of broken teeth sticking out their black gums, the soiled remains of their clothes hanging off them in tatters, etcetera. These zombies also follow the 'smart but still rather bone-brained' bandwagon, by picking rather intelligent hunting tactics. They primarily hunt by scent and tend to kill/capture their victims by outnumbering them, but they tend to take up residence in side-streets, subway tunnels, and even flumes in swimming pools. You can run, but you can't hide. In any case, it adds a lot more danger to regular 'running away from zombies' scenarios.Naturally, the surviving kids have gravitated to supermarkets (because hey, they're giant snack cupboards), but of course, this method doesn't exactly work once you've eaten everything, and there's nothing new coming in. Groups of kids travel to ransack houses and other establishments, but it's still not enough. Our main gang, who all reside in Waitrose, are almost at their wit's end, when all of a sudden they are introduced to Jester. He's a slightly older kid, living in Buckingham Palace with a group of other survivors. He tries to recruit the kids, and they all generally agree to go with him, except for Callum, a natural loner. Another boy from the Waitrose crew named Small Sam, the victim of a recent kidnap, comes back after much hardship to find that everyone has moved to Buckingham Palace. Thus follows a story of a main group traipsing through London, occasionally making detours through the zoo (where they are attacked by zombie chimpanzees, of all things), characters dying because we needed a few more pages here and there, and that less than stellar chapter where the kids go through the main shopping district of London. Conversely, we have Sam, who has to traverse the streets of London all by himself, go through the Tube tunnels, and try not to get eaten by zombies or cannibals along the way.Like I said before, I felt really bad any time something bad happened to these kids. More than a few chapters ended on cliffhangers that had my heart in my mouth, winding up with me feverishly reading ahead to see if my favourite characters would pull through. Which is why I have to deduct half a star for some of the more boring parts of the story, which really felt like padding.You know that romp through London's shopping district I talked about earlier? Yeah. That happens around about when our other characters are going through severe hardship, and then all of a sudden we have kids running riot through Selfridge's, Achilleus had that fight against John for little to no reason... Eh. Just not my kind of thing. (Though I will admit, as clunky as it was, the part where the kids are in Selfridge's and the zombies (who aren't attacking them, just wandering around aimlessly and in a lot of pain) are killed by some kids in gruesome ways was pretty harrowing.)So yes, the story unravels a few times, but that's not too bad. It's doing a lot better than some other books I've read this year in getting me to actually care for the characters. Hell, I was really concerned for the kids even following Jester in the first place. I've read Watership Down. I seriously thought these kids were walking into a trap, and seriously hoped they'd realise David is a slightly watered-down General Woundwort. The lovely dinner once they got there, followed by the other kids' idolisation of David, and the kids slowly breaking up into factions because some of them have bought into David's ideas of a brand new world, and some kids haven't... It was pretty effective. I don't agree one hundred percent about the ending, though, where the kids finally leave Buckingham Palace for the Natural History Museum. There wasn't much conflict, hell, David's guards completely chickened out, and David was reduced to yelling at them to come back from a balcony.The ending with the intelligent zombie in a St. George's football shirt, though? That was pretty amazing, and helped to ensure that I would be buying the next book in this series.My favourite part of the story, bar none, has to be the chapters where Small Sam is running through the subway tunnels, exhausted and just trying to find his way above ground so he can be reunited with the kids from Waitrose. Eventually, he's found by a kindly man named Nick (who, in my mind looks a bit like Argus Filch with dreadlocks – he even has a fat kitty called Orion – it's Mrs. Norris!) and his wife, Rachel. They seem nice at first, feeding him up and giving him a bed to sleep on... then he wakes up in an abandoned subway train, chained up and with several other kids, who simply believe Nick and Rachel hold them hostage to keep them safe before letting them go. Of course, Nick and Rachel are cannibals. Nick is pretty damn menacing, especially when he catches Sam and his friend in the act of escaping.This book was pretty much everything I wanted from Michael Grant's Gone. Characters I cared about, hostile situations where you feared for their lives, really creatively horrible zombies, true horror, nice little clues about society here and there, fun little bits of satire... All in all, worth a 4.5/5 in my book. (This review is also available on my blog: http://book-wyrm.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/the-enemy-by-charlie-higson.html)