The Enemy is the first book in a new post-apocalyptic trilogy for young adults by Charlie Higson. There are many new books out in this genre, but The Enemy stands out from the pack. It is compelling and nerve-wracking -- I read it in two sittings, and wondered about it in between.
The Enemy is set in a post-worldwide-plague London. The plague has killed off most people over 16, causing the infrastructure to collapse. Any remaining adults are infected by the virus, which leaves them physically and mentally deformed. They are pseudo-zombies, though they haven't actually risen from the dead (and can't infect the children with their disease). The "grown-ups", as the kids call them, have lost their humanity, and treat the children as prey.
Groups of children band together to survive, scavenging for food, and fighting off the grown-ups. One such group lives in a Waitrose supermarket; another in a nearby Morrisons market. Initially rivals, the two groups band together when the grown-ups start to show signs of organization. When a strange kid called Jester shows up, promising food, safety, and clean beds in Buckingham Palace, the Waitrose and Morrisons kids are skeptical. But, after losing several kids to the grown-ups, they agree to give it a try. They set out on a perilous journey across London, in the hope of finding sanctuary.
Higson, author of the well-regarded Young James Bond series (see my review of the first book, Silverfin), has written and produced for television, and it shows (in a good way) in his pacing. The Enemy is an edge-of-your seat thriller, a book that will keep you up late at night, unable to resist one more chapter, and then one more. The chapters are short, and the action shifts between different characters and situations, and you just have to keep reading. But it's an intelligent book, too. While there is a fair bit of violence, there are also more subtle power struggles between the kids, moral dilemmas, and cases where only clever thinking is going to save the day.
The Enemy is a bit like Michael Grant's Gone series, but without (for the most part) the supernatural elements. There's a wide cast of characters, and kids with different skills play different roles. The kids are far from perfect - some of them, with various motives, make things worse. Post-plague London is also almost a character in the book, vividly realized and dangerous, but with tantalizing remnants of life before. Discussions between some of the kids about things that they miss show that The Enemy is set in the very immediate future, with references to (no longer unusable) iPods, DVDs, etc.
The Enemy is not a book for the faint of heart. There are deaths. Some of the battle scenes and descriptions of the grown-ups are pretty gruesome. London is a grim place. But The Enemy is not quite as bleak as The Hunger Games, or Carrie Ryan's Forest of Hands and Teeth trilogy.
Here are a few passages, to give you a feel for the book:
"Arran pushed his hair out of his eyes. His guts hurt. He didn't really feel hungry anymore, just sick and tired. He'd grown to hate these streets. The smell of them, the filth everywhere, the grass and weeds pushing out of every crack, the constant fear chewing away at him." (Page 14)
"They weren't faked. You couldn't fake a Polaroid. It wasn't like the old days when you could use a computer to do anything you liked. There was no Photoshop anymore, not without electricity to power the computers. Photoshop was just one more thing that had seemed really important at the time but was now completely irrelevant. Useless." (Page 74)
"He pedaled harder and soon came to where several roads met near the tube station. He stopped at a traffic island in the middle. In the past there would have been cars and trucks and buses rushing past in all directions, and the sidewalks would have been filled with kids going to the market. Now it wasn't like being in the city at all. The buildings might just as well have been rocks and cliffs. The abandoned, stationary cars were boulders. The road a dried-up riverbed." (Page 145)
I'm quite curious to see where Higson is going to take this series. Book 2, The Dead, is a prequel of sorts, going back a year prior to the events of The Enemy, and featuring a different group of kids. I'm ok with this because, while I very much enjoyed The Enemy, the shifting viewpoints kept me from getting too attached to any one character (well, except for Small Sam). It's more that I want to see what other surprises Higson has up his sleeve, and spend more time understanding his post-apocalyptic world. It seems to me that there could easily be more than three books here.
The Enemy is a must-read for fans of post-apocalyptic fiction, and is worth a look for anyone who enjoys a fast-paced adventure (and doesn't mind a bit of gore). It's one that someone from Guys Lit Wire (book recommendations for teenage boys) should take a look at, if they haven't already. The Enemy is going on my keep shelf. Recommended!
Publisher: Hyperion (@HyperionTeens)
Publication Date: May 11, 2010
Source of Book: Bought it, in anticipation of Book 2
© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and may result in my receiving a small commission on purchases (with no additional cost to you).