"The Enemy" Book Review
Written by Steve Pattee
Published by Puffin Books
'How did it all end up like this?' he said. 'We're just kids ourselves.' – Freak
Written by Charlie Higson
2009, 467 pages, Fiction
Book released on September 3rd, 2009
As a horror fan, I had it pretty good as a kid. Not only did my mother like horror movies, she also was a fan of horror novels and true crime books, and most of my youthful memories of either scary movies or introductions to new books came from mom. She was always comfortable letting me read or watch what I wanted, provided she read it or watched it first herself to determine if it was suitable for me. For the most part, everything was — seriously, Dawn of the Dead at the drive-in for an 8-year-old was probably not very age-appropriate, but my mom rocked, so there you go.
I dread saying it, but back when I was growing up there weren't a lot, if any, horror novels for young adults. Sure, there were little spine-tinglers running about 150 pages or so, and I ate those up, but nothing with meat. I, like most horror fans my age, turned to King and Koontz for escape. The problem, though, with the exception of Carrie, The Body or even IT, it was very hard to relate to some of the characters. I remember reading 'Salem's Lot in high school and not liking it, but found that I loved it years later as an adult. I don't remember novels — and I mean actual novels — growing up that were the size and scope of today's Twilight or Harry Potter series'. So when The Enemy — a horror novel aimed at young adults — arrived in my post with a healthy 467 pages, I was intrigued. The first thing I wondered was, How far would this book go?
My question was answered early on: No one is safe in Charlie Higson's The Enemy.
The Enemy takes place in modern day London, where a virus has infected everyone over the age of 14, killing most and turning the rest into cannibalistic predators. The remaining population (read: kids) must forage and fend for themselves as all of the adults are either dead or insane. The Enemy follows a group of children who start the novel hiding out in an abandoned store, but end up on a dangerous journey to Buckingham Palace after a mysterious teen shows up with promises of a better life there waiting for them. This is 28 Days Later meets Lord of the Flies with a smidgeon of Hansel and Gretel. How can it not be good?
The most impressive thing about The Enemy is the fact, as mentioned, no one is safe. These characters are about as free from harm as Marion Crane staying in an off-the-beaten-path hotel. We're not talking about second- or third-string players here, either. Sure, there is definitely cannon fodder in the mix, but it's also downright startling who doesn't make it to the end. This is surprising considering who the novel is written for, and impressive because of the message: Yeah, kids, life sometimes sucks. Part of me has to wonder if this is Higson's British sensibility coming through, because we all know that while in American media (both books and film) everyone generally gets a happy ending, that's not so much the way it is in the rest of the world.
The Enemy has a lot of characters to dish the pain out to, and a strong credit to Higson's skill is that virtually none of them are cookie-cut. The main players have their own distinctive personality, problems and insecurities, and the secondary ones are memorable in their own right. This is important because since a novel is obviously not a visual medium, sometimes authors get in the trap of introducing so many characters it becomes confusing determining who is who. Not once did I question which character was which, and for someone who occasionally has to write down the parts played if there are too many, this is impressive.
The book is an incredibly quick read, partially due to its fast pace, partially due to being unable to put it down. Higson made a wise decision to not just make The Enemy about one group of kids trying to get from point A to B. There are side stories mixed throughout of some of the children who get separated from the main group for one reason or another. This makes for some tension-filled moments because right at the point when something big is going to happen in one youth's life, the chapter ends and the next chapter picks up where another part of the tale left off. This back and forth keeps the book moving, and you on your toes rooting for the various characters (or, in some cases, waiting for some to get what's coming to them).
The Enemy is obviously the start of a series, as it's not only made clear from the press release, but also by the ending itself. Higson does two things very well here: he ties up all of the loose ends of the main story and he leaves enough questions unanswered that you are compelled to read whatever sequels will come. That's a fine line to dance, as it's very easy to either give too much closure or too little, but here it's the perfect mix.
I struggled with what to grade The Enemy, no doubt due to my age. While brutal enough for young adults, I found myself wanting just a bit more violence (after all, I graduated to Laymon and Ketchum after King and Koontz). However, for the target audience, it's just right (so much so, I'm buying a copy for my 13-year-old niece to read). I decided to go with two grades. A cheat, sure, but when all is said and done, though, this is a a great discovery for people of all ages. Give this one a read.
– For Adults
– For Young Adults