The Enemy

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Please note that this review relates to the UK version of the novel. I understand that some changes were made to the story for its release in the USA (including raising the age of the infected to 16+) in order to better appeal to the American market.

The Enemy is a series of horror novels written by Charlie Higson. They follow the lives of a group of children in London as they are forced to survive in the aftermath of a terrible plague. The series is planned to run for seven novels, of which five have currently been published – The Enemy (2009), The Dead (2010), The Fear (2011), The Sacrifice (2012) and The Fallen (2013). This review focuses on the first book only.

The story focuses on two groups of children, dubbed the Waitrose Gang and the Morrisons Gang, who have been forced to band together for survival in a post-apocalyptic London. One year previously, a mysterious disease swept the globe and infected every person over the age of fourteen. The infected – referred to by the kids simply as ‘the grown-ups’ – quickly turned savage, forgetting who they were and mindlessly turning on their own families. Bands of these feral grown-ups now roam the streets of London, devouring any stray children that they find.

For the Waitrose Gang, life is getting increasingly hard. Their supplies are running low and every scouting mission grows more dangerous. When a mysterious kid in a patchwork coat shows up outside their den, they are at first suspicious of him but he brings with him the promise of a better life.

In Buckingham Palace, a group of survivors have built a utopia and invite all children to join them. However, to get to the palace they will have to face the grown-ups and embark on a long trek across the ruins of London. To make matters even worse, the grown-ups seem to be getting smarter. Lead by an overweight man in a T-shirt bearing the Cross of St. George, they are learning to use weapons and are banding together to form an army…

 Firstly, it is probably best to warn you that The Enemy is incredibly nasty for a young adult novel. Kids kill grown-ups, grown-ups kill kids, kids kill kids. It’s violent, gory and thoroughly grotesque throughout. Higson excels at physical horror. Nothing is left to the imagination and every death is portrayed down to its most horrible detail. If you are a fan of horror stories that contain nothing but blood and filth, you will probably find something to enjoy in The Enemy. If you are in any way squeamish, there is no point in reading on. This is not the book for you.

Stylistically, the novel has a lot in common with Michael Grant’s Gone. Both stories focus on a group of kids who have been forced to pull together and figure out how to survive in a world where there are no adults. The primary difference between the two novels is that the tension in Gone primarily comes from other kids. This is also a factor in The Enemy, but the enemy within is merely an on-going secondary threat behind the cannibalistic grown-ups. This brings me to my first nagging irritation in the plot – the disease itself.

It may be something that is explored later in the series, but in The Enemy we are given no clues as to what caused the illness. The children offer a few off the hand suggestions, ranging from God’s will to biological warfare, but they do not discuss this anywhere near as frequently as I would have liked. As all of the adults are infected or dead, there does not seem to be any kind of way that this could ever be resolved. The children do not have the resources or knowledge to research a cure. Their skills in medicine go no further than disinfecting wounds – infection is shown as being one of the main causes of death in their world, purely because they don’t have any way of fighting it. There does not seem to be any way out of their situation short of finding a way to kill off every grown-up in the world. I’m not sure where the series can really go beyond this one book. Unless the later stories ignore the rules put in place by this one, I can’t see how the story will develop beyond the ‘kids fighting grown-ups’ stage.

However, I would not really be surprised if the author gets around this by ignoring his own rules. The symptoms and progression of the illness vary wildly from grown-up to grown-up. Early on in the novel, it is established that the illness is eventually fatal. People over the age of 14 become infected (though why there is a strict lower age limit on a disease is utterly baffling to me), begin to develop boils and other visible afflictions while slowly losing their minds, wander the streets eating children and eventually decay to the point that they split open and die. However, as the story progresses we begin to discover that this is not always the case.

Some grown-ups, like St. George, remain relatively intelligent. Others become utterly harmless and do not try to attack children, even when opening engaged. Most annoying of all are the surprise zombies. These appear coherent and completely immune to the disease until the author deems it necessary to have a scare, at which point they develop every symptom in a matter of seconds. In the absence of any kind of explanation, this lack of consistency is incredibly jarring. It feels as though Higson has no clear idea as to what the nature of the illness actually is and therefore just uses it for dramatic affect in whatever way has the nastiest outcome.

The plot of the novel, while not bad, is incredibly simplistic. It is roughly split into three parts. The main story follows the large group of kids as they journey to Buckingham Palace and reveals what they discover when they get there. Interspersed between these chapters are shorter ones which focus on two sub-plots. One follows a nine year old boy named Small Sam as he escapes from the grown-ups who have kidnapped him (the only time that they conveniently don’t kill a child outright in the story) and tries to make his own way to the palace in order to catch up with the others. The other focuses on Callum, the only boy who refuses to leave the supermarket, as he slowly succumbs to depression.

Although I expected that these stories would connect at the end of the novel, they unfortunately did not. Callum’s served no point at all, ending very disappointingly and making his chapters feel like an utter waste of time. Small Sam’s story was probably the most exciting of the three, and was definitely the one that I enjoyed reading the most, however just kind of petered out with no real ending. The main story was the only one that felt anywhere near complete, however it also never really built to a climax.

The lack of a satisfying ending struck me as somewhat strange, as the novel started out rather fast paced and full of exciting and creative fight sequences. It almost felt that Higson lost steam towards the end. Following the fight with the squatters in Green Park the last hundred pages or so just got slower and slower, virtually ending on a cliff hanger and giving no rewarding sense of closure.

However, by far the story’s weakest element is its cast. All of the characters in the novel feel like cardboard cut-outs, displaying personalities that can each be described in a couple of words. Achilleus was the bully. Blue was the leader. Ollie was the smart one. Maxie was the infuriatingly weak lead female. Anything that the author deems important for us to know about the characters is offered in huge text dumps as the start of the novel, while they seem to show little personality in themselves. Most did not even speak like children. Personally, I have never heard a pre-teen cockney hooligan announce “Oh, my days” like a post-apocalyptic Bertie Wooster when faced by something surprising.

In The Enemy, no character feels as though they are safe. Characters that seemed important early on were killed off very quickly while secondary characters quickly moved up in the ranks to take their place. Unfortunately, because the characters were so flat and unmemorable, I did not care. In a story that is so full of death, it is necessary to make your readers connect with the characters so that they will feel sad if anything happens to them. I did not feel this way about any character in The Enemy.

So, would I recommend this novel to anyone? Well, the first three quarters of the novel are fairly exciting and are certainly filled with violence. A young horror movie buff whose taste is purely in gore fests might get a little enjoyment from this. However, for the more discerning reader, there is not a lot of interest here. The story feels unbalanced, the nature of the disease fluctuates frequently for plot convenience and the characters are flat and underdeveloped. The Enemy reads more like a four hundred page prologue than a complete novel in its own right, and I hope that it actually develops into a story in the subsequent installments.

The Enemy can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and audio book on Amazon.co.uk

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