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Old 3rd Nov 2010, 13:24   #1
Colyngbourne
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Default Charlie Higson: The Enemy/The Dead series

With The Walking Dead thread presently perking up over in Other Reviews, it’s time to give a big shout-out for Charlie Higson’s YA zombie series, continuing last month with the publication of The Dead. For anyone familiar with his Young Bond book, The Enemy/The Dead does the same deft job of sliding you into the lives of a few characters and punching up the odds to nail-biting levels. With young James, however, the reader has the foreknowledge and certainty that he will live on to Die Another Day; in Higsons’s C21st zombie-land there are no such promises, and like the cast of Spooks, you are not guaranteed that the characters who carry the story’s focus at the start will be there at the end. In any kind of book this is actually a bit of a shocker: the status of central protagonist is handed on mid-story to a character in the background; new and vital personalities come to the fore but to our surprise, none of them are particularly safe from the zombies Higson has created.



These books reduce the usual odds in such apocalyptic scenarios by making the curse of the undead an infection that affects only those over the age of 1/415 yrs. All adults have either died from the disease or have morphed into brain-gibbering, pustule-ridden flesh-eating monsters, capable of chasing and consuming the children they once parented. Clearly the children’s chances are limited by their age: their knowledge of how things work - rifles, driving cars, map reading – combined with their lack of physical strength means that teen cunning and quick-witted spur-of-the-moment planning and execution is one of their only defences. That and using any weapon at hand to chop/beat the adults to death.

What pulls the stories through the inevitable series of attacks in expected/unlikely places are the different characters that make up the cast: in The Dead, Higson mixes a cohort of public schoolboys who have escaped and hatcheted some of their former teachers, with some south London kids from less economically-advantaged backgrounds and the regional patois in addition. There is usually one or two who are quiet inward types, reading books and hiding rather than fighting, retreating into escapism or doing vital research that will help the more physical fighters to succeed or for groups of children to sustain themselves in the havens they find.

Centred as it is on London and the south-east, these havens are some of the places you might imagine: The Tower of London does its job just as well as it has always done; the Emirates stadium has a part to play in containing…something….; Buckingham Palace forms the barracks for the power-battles that begin to break out between groups of children. The leader there, David, is chillingly politically aware and manipulative even aged 13/14.

As this turns out to be a series of six books, Higson has a long way to go on the deeper issues in the books. Occasional adults without the disease have turned up, cannibalism is a danger, the Dead become less monstrous and swifter when they eat children’s flesh, and as yet, it is unclear whether children who reach the dangerous age of 15 are liable to automatically succumb to the disease: how the characters deal with their imminent expulsion from safe society and transformation into a zombie, has yet to be faced.

These books are fully rounded and set in a brilliantly recognisable C21st, and whilst this might date them in years to come, they are as chilling in their own way as The Day of the Triffids.


Charlie Higson does a good authorial account (for children) of how the stories develop, verbally and physically, here
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Old 3rd Nov 2010, 15:07   #2
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Default Re: Charlie Higson: The Enemy/The Dead series

Thanks for this, Col.

I like Higson, always have. I know he had a life waaaay before The Fast Show, but it's what most people will know him for:



(that includes my all-time favourite comedy line, incidentally)

yet he's always been the most interesting and talented of that group of alumni.

NB. whenever I stay at chez Col, I read one of Charlie's Young Bond series...they're very good fun indeed.
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Old 3rd Nov 2010, 15:09   #3
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Default Re: Charlie Higson: The Enemy/The Dead series

We haven't got the latest Young Bond, I don't think. Son #2 is not as interested in them anymore, so you'll have to switch to zombies next visit, a.
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Old 3rd Nov 2010, 15:13   #4
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Default Re: Charlie Higson: The Enemy/The Dead series

Tsk. And there's me, avidly anti-undead!
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Old 2nd Feb 2011, 11:57   #5
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Default Re: Charlie Higson: The Enemy/The Dead series

I devoured, if that's the word, and I think it probably is, Charlie Higson's The Enemy in a few short sittings.

Higson doesn't start off with the pox apocalypse that has laid waste to the population older than 15 (apart from those that...no, I'm not saying, he produces such a nice twist about two thirds through when you wonder why there are still a handful of healthy adults around); instead we dive in just over a year later, with a bunch of ragamuffins holed out here:



the Waitrose on London's Holloway Road. Higson's London is real and relatable - and, yes, it will probably date things quite swiftly - but in all things apart from the groaning grown-ups wandering the streets (although, hey, right?) it is recognisable and contemporary.

Mixed up and confused, but tough and gnarly, the kids are getting by, making food and provision raids and trying to carve a niche for themselves in the North London hinterland. When yet another of their clan is grabbed by the enemy, the grown-ups, the Strangers, the crazies (all the kids they encounter have different names for the shambling cannibalistic horde) an offer of sanctuary seems too good to pass up, and the children set off on a nightmarish journey through London to see if there really is a better life elsewhere.

But the kid who's been grabbed, Sam, is not dead as feared and he soon begins his own parallel quest, first via a grown-ups' hovel, and then terrifyingly through the Tube, where he runs into the awful Nick and Rachel, who show him that not all the horrors lie above ground.

This is swift, brutal, entertaining fayre, and Higson - who had plenty of praise for his earlier, adult, thrillers - writes with great pace and aplomb. It seems almost lightweight in many ways but you realise after a while that actually you're in the middle of something rather arch and clever and subtly complex.

Terrific.

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Old 15th Jul 2011, 14:20   #6
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Default Re: Charlie Higson: The Enemy/The Dead series

Tsk. I came on here to say that The Fear (no.3 in the The Enemy series) is set to be released on 15th September through Penguin/Puffin:



and in so doing thought, oh did I really not do a review of The Dead? Very tardy, I apologise. Give me the weekend; a pal has just returned it, so I shall put something together.
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Old 15th Jul 2011, 14:48   #7
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Default Re: Charlie Higson: The Enemy/The Dead series

Ooh, very exciting news indeed.
I've also just heard about an upcoming sequel to one of the creepiest YA novels I've ever read - Unwind - which is to be titled Unwholly.
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Old 28th Sep 2011, 14:38   #8
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Default Re: Charlie Higson: The Enemy/The Dead series

Woooooh! Just been loaned a pristine copy of The Fear - that's me doing no work for the next couple of days!

And the next book The Sacrifice out next year. He's a busy bee, that Higson.

Edit: for some reason I had incorrectly spotted the title of next year's book as The Collector,
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Old 29th Sep 2011, 11:22   #9
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Default Re: The Fear

You feel The Fear. You feel it from page-shuddering details in the opening paragraphs. A grown-up (which carries awful implications in this series) is on the hunt for 'stuff' to cram into his appartment-bulging hoard of collectables:

Quote:
Tonight he was looking for toys. His last toys had got broken beyond rpair. They'd stopped moving, stopped entertaining him with their jerky actions. Stopped making their funny noises. What use were toys if you couldn't play games with them any more?

When they no longer worked, he simply ate them.
Higson delivers bone-chilling fear and distress in bucketfulls in this third book of The Enemy series. That and bone-cracking, bone-munching, bone-sucking 'zombies' who are beginning to get their act together - a fearsome survivor from the bus journey of The Dead is gathering an army, and the children/teens are less likely to survive attacks from the "gym bunnies" who retain something of their athletic physique. As before, no character is safe and a great deal of tension arises from the open-ended nature of the narrative. You have a favourite character or a location where the kids seem safe? No guarantees. Age or 'coolness' or being a POV character makes you safe? No guarantees. Only one character seems guaranteed so far to escape this randomness but hopefully Higson will realise that "come-uppance" is not guaranteed either and surprise us with further developments. As a result I'm not going to mention many names from this book other than to say that Shadowman is an excellent new character, alongside Nicola, Ryan and Justin, and to recommend that you should squint through your fingers whenever the Emirates Stadium is mentioned.


The Fear occupies the few days prior to the events of The Enemy, following the journey of Dognut and others from the Tower of London as they try to find the whereabouts of the others from their group. Keen to prove himself, Dognut travels to the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace and the Natural History Museum, where different groups of kids have formed communities with a variety of styles of leadership and purpose. Roaming the s treets are Hunters, gangs of mercenaries for hire, who will safeguard travel through dangerous zones or pass on useful information (if you remember to ask them!). The nature of leadership underlies much of the quieter drama off the streets - the compromises, the personalities, the requirements and demands and responsibilities. Dognut has to come to terms with his own defecit in some of these areas and find where his loyalties lie.

It is not enough to say this book is not only brilliantly imagined and executed. It is heartpounding stuff but also heartwarming at an intimate teen level: Higson writes teens perfectly, dropping in mentions of Lord of the Rings, or of playing Fable and Halo, comically deadpan:

Quote:
"My favourite was Fable, though."
"Never played that."
"It was good. Good story. Good acting."
"I just like games wher you blow things up and shoot people."
"Yeah."
Carefully the book steers a path through terrain that is fraught with moral difficulties and ethical minefields: how to run a community of kids justly so that all are safe and fed and watered and peaceable, when other groups are aggressive and fiercely territorial; how to care for other's safety without neglecting your own (and the emotional aftermath of having to abandon the weak to save the remainder of a group); how to handle the humanity of "the sickos" as well as their inhumanity. Even teen romance is treated seriously and not a negligible concern even in a world of zombies.

Higson leaves us with a stage full of bodies, a world full of threat, an unease about what David-of-Buckingham-Palace might do next, and a fear of who might fall by the wayside in the struggle for survival. After two prequels the action is ready to move on to The Sacrifice - I suspect Matt's agnus dei movement in St Paul's will re-emerge alongside Small Sam and The Kid. Matt has foretold that the lamb will look like a boy, and the boy's shadow must be sacrificed, but a familiarity with Higson's writing will ensure that this will not be the only sacrifice on offer.

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