The Dead

The Dead

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for its prequel, The Enemy. You can read my review of this novel [here].

Please note that, as with my review of The Enemy, this review is based on the original UK version of the novel. I don’t know how different the American version of this story is but I do know that one major change is that the age of the infected is raised from anyone over the age of 14 to anyone over the age of 16. Please bare this in mind as you continue to read this review.

The Dead was written by Charlie Higson and first published in 2010. It forms the second part of The Enemy series and is preceded by The Enemy (2009) and followed by The Fear (2011), The Sacrifice (2012), The Fallen (2013) and The Hunted (2014). The final instalment – provisionally titled The End – is due for release next year. The series focuses on the survival of the children left in London after the adults become zombies.

Set a full year before events of the first novel, The Dead introduces us to a group of private school boys who have banded together after the outbreak transformed their teachers into zombies (largely known as sickos in this novel). When they realise that their supplies in the school are limited, the boys split into two groups – half heading into the country and half setting off towards London.

It is not long before the country group run into trouble and find themselves under attack by a large group of sickos. Although many of their number are killed, the rest are rescued by a bus-driving stranger. The adult driving – identifying himself as Greg – has somehow avoided infection and reluctantly offers to drive the group as far as London, reuniting with their friends along the way. However, life in London is no easier than what they have left behind. They soon discover that it will take all of their skills, strength and teamwork to survive and even then many of them will soon find themselves as dinner for the ravenous horde of sickos…

Before I begin, I’ll start with my usual horror story disclaimer. This book is incredibly violent from start to finish and contains of extremely graphic gore, threat, bad language and other generally unpleasant situations. This novel is certainly not for the easily disturbed and if you’re sensitive to such things I would strongly advise that you avoid this book.

In my standard header, I warned that this review could potentially contain spoilers for The Enemy but for once I don’t think that this will be the case at all. The Dead contains a completely different cast to its precursor and therefore could easily be read and fully appreciated even if you have not picked up the first book. Although there are a few points where the stories cross over towards the end (including David King’s arrival in London and Small Sam finding his way to the Tower), these don’t really add anything new to the story that would confuse a reader unfamiliar with the characters.

The setting of the novel is that of a standard zombie apocalypse, continuing to showcase Higson’s talent in writing physical horror. The landscape that these kids inhabit is barren and strewn with rubble and the terror in the story does not come through subtle scares but from sheer horror of the kids’ situation. They are perpetually starving, terrified and exhausted, while they are mindlessly hunted by the adults who once protected them. For a fan of gritty horror stories filled with blood and filth, The Dead is essential reading as it maintains its brutal atmosphere throughout as the principal cast gradually fall to the sickos one by one.

Unfortunately, The Dead never really advances this concept much beyond what happens in The Enemy. Over the course of the novel, we only really learn two things that we did not know in the first book – that children who age past 14 don’t seem to catch the disease and that (theoretically) the sickos eat kids because there is something about them that relieves the disease’s worse symptoms. Aside from these revelations, the story feels largely like a continuation of the first book. It does not even quiet reach the level of intensity of The Enemy. Perhaps it is because I’m just getting use to Higson’s writing style now but I found this story to be a lot more predictable. Some plot twists from the first novel were recycled into this one (including the surprise zombies) while those that were not were just so well signposted that I saw them coming from miles away.

While the climax of The Dead was a lot more intense and actually did lead to a satisfying ending (rather than just petering out as its precursor did) it also left a lot of open ends. For example, while this book largely did only follow one plot line (as opposed to The Enemy which switched between three), the cast splits into several groups towards the end. While we discover what happens to Ed’s group in The Dead and know what happens to David’s because of the events of The Enemy, two groups are left unaccounted for. We never discover what happened to Brooke’s party or Matt and his “Angus Day” acolytes. This really frustrated me in the end as, although they were not major characters, I still would have liked to have known if they lived or died. I expect that they’ll probably reappear in future books but the lack of closure in this one is still frustrating. It almost felt as though the author had forgotten to write an ending for them.

There were also some supernatural elements in this story that just felt out of place. Firstly was Chris Marker – a boy who repeatedly sees a ghost that he calls the Grey Lady. Secondly is Matt, a boy who’s religious visions do increasingly seem to come to pass as the story progresses. While I appreciate that these things could have rational explanations (or just be coincidences) it just seemed strange to me to have them in the story at all. Both The Enemy and The Dead went to great lengths to remind the reader that there was nothing supernatural about the sickos – they were alive and infected, not undead – so why then have such unexplained aspects elsewhere in the plot?

However, while the plot of The Dead failed to advance it did show some improvement in terms of characterisation. Ed, Jack and Bam provided a very likable group of main characters, each showing depth and development which was lacking from everyone in the first book. The relationship between these three boys was very complex and I particularly enjoyed the subplot where the three went off in search of Jack’s home as it really showed that the relationship between lads can be just as powerful as that between female characters – an aspect often missing from literature aimed at teenage boys.

Unfortunately, this character strength did not continue across the board. Like The Enemy, this novel contained an enormous cast of cannon fodder, most of whom I found that I was unable to tell apart as I kept forgetting which character was which. Because of this, I certainly did not care if any of them got hurt.

Among these were some characters which I can only describe as hilarious. Kwanele was my favourite character in the entire story just because he was so outrageously unrealistic. His preoccupation with his expensive clothes (and desire to keep them clean while people around him were being ripped apart) cracked me up time and time again. Similarly, Brooke and her gaggle of Essex girls retained their “attitudes” surprisingly well despite the constant danger. I noted in my last review that Higson seems to have a problem writing convincing female characters and my view has not changed. A character who introduces herself by saying “I’m a right bitch, but I’m pretty so I can get away with it” immediately loses all sympathy I might have had for them.

This review’s running a little long so I guess I should wrap it up now. If you like your horror filled with gore or enjoyed The Enemy, you’ll probably get a kick out of this book. However, you will quickly find that it largely treads the same ground as its precursor, containing many of the same twists and not really bringing anything new to the table. The cast does fair ever so slightly better with regards to its principle three characters but is largely populated by the same underdeveloped horde of kids who are destined to be nothing more than zombie-chow. I really hope that the overall story starts to get moving in The Fear because I feel that the introduction to the series has now gone on for far too long and I really need something to sink my teeth into if I’m to keep reading.

The Dead can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk

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  1. Trackback: Young Bond: SilverFin | Arkham Reviews

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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