Thursday, 22 November 2012
The Enemy, by Charlie Higson
Around a year has passed since a deadly disease decimated the population. Everyone aged fourteen and above has either died, or has become one of the diseased grown-ups wandering the streets looking for fresh meat. They may not be zombies per se, but they’re as good as. And the fresh meat they're looking for? Well, survivors, of course. Children.
In the year since the disease struck, a group of kids have banded together, taking refuge in an empty supermarket, older kids looking after the little kids, keeping watch, and scavenging for survival. But as the grown-ups become more threatening and the food starts to run out, a decision has to be made: to stay or to move on? And when Jester turns up on the doorstep promising a place of safety and abundance, the decision is as good as made. Now, they just have to make their way through the streets of London, avoiding rabid grown-ups and escaped zoo animals as they go.
The Enemy is the first in a series that currently stands at four books. It imagines a world turned to terror and destruction, where survival of the fittest is more than just a Darwinian theory. It’s action and fear and adrenaline.
A lot happens during the story, but what stood out most strongly for me was the power vacuum created by the loss of the adults. Somebody needs to take charge, but who will that person be and what kind of power will they choose to yield? One character, Ollie, says that there are two kinds of leaders, peacetime leaders and wartime leaders, but author Charlie Higson shows that there are also dictators and democracies. It made me think of the old adage, ‘absolute power corrupts absolutely.’ There are the leaders who seek power, and those that don’t, and - generally speaking - the ones that don’t seek it are the ones who are better at wielding it. And so our group from Waitrose meet the power-hungry David, whose ‘best intentions’ are quite different to their own.
This is a new world, and so calls for a new world order, but this in itself raises a lot of questions. How do you avoid losing sight of right and wrong when simply surviving each day is a battle? If we lose our morality, who are we; are we just animals? A world without adults is a premise repeated by the equally popular ‘Gone’ series by Michael Grant, Gone being a book that I really disliked (boring and badly written), and remain shocked at the extent of its popularity. The Enemy was considerably better. What prevents The Enemy from being really good, though, is Higson’s style of telling the story from multiple character viewpoints. While there are three main lines to the story (Maxie, Callum and Sam), Higson jumps the viewpoint around between a bunch of different characters. There are five or six who we hear more from, but the constant jumping drew away from the flow of the story, and prevented the reader from getting to know any one person really, really well.
After battles against grown-ups and battles against each other, by the conclusion of The Enemy the kids are more-or-less in the same position as they were at the opening of the book, with one key exception: they have hope. They are moving on again, but things are changing, and they have garnered more strength. A number of questions hang in the air, and I suspect that Higson will drag these out as long as possible for they drive the bigger story and encourage the reader to read on. Where did the virus come from? Is it in the air or in the people? Why are those under fourteen immune? And when they turn fourteen - what will happen then?