Charlie Higson’s The Sacrifice is due to release in a few days, so I figured I needed to reintroduce the book that began it all: The Enemy.
I have to say, the direction of YA has been changing quickly. This is important to cover because this book dangerously flirts with the boundaries of what I would consider Young Adult. Yet, if you visit your local bookstore, that’s exactly where you’ll find it shelved.
I don’t typically read this type of book. When I say that, I mean zombies. I don’t really read about zombies, flesh ripping, or gore. The reason for this is simple, if I wanted a dose of something horrific, I’d Google the #Houla massacre (be warned, you CANNOT erase those images from your head). We all know that some guy ate the face off of someone in Florida. So, reading about zombies doesn’t really fall too far from the truth these days. I like my fiction to be fiction.
I made an exception for Charlie Higson’s The Enemy. The whole set up for this book is quite simple, rampant disease affects the population turning all those older than 14 into child eating zombies. So it’s kind of a horrific version of Peter Pan. The kids can do whatever they want, no adults, they rule the world. It just so happens that there are tons of flesh eating parents, cops, etc. stopping at nothing to kill them. Then, there’s the age factor… these kids are getting older and 14 is the magic age to be infection free, once you pass that mark, you are liable to turn into your worst nightmare.
There May Be Spoilers So Be Warned:
This book was a roller coaster. A well trusted book reviewer recommended this book to me over lunch one day because I was so tired with the average YA sludge that’s been coming out. “You won’t be bored with this one,” she said.
What she meant by that is that there is no safety; Charlie Higson likes to kill people.
What sets Higson apart from the genre is that there aren’t really any “side characters”, which are usually the ones you expect to get axed. Higson develops a connection with each of his characters, so you get to know each of them as you would the main character. Readers, whether we realize it or not, look for a particular trait to hang on to that creates a reader-character bond. Creating traits for a large cast frequently presents problems because you can only afford to spend so much time developing that bond. Higson does this seamlessly. Once that bond is there, as readers, we tend to feel safe because we know there are “X” pages left until the end of the book and they couldn’t possibly die before then.
In The Enemy, there is no safety. Higson really drives that idea home because on one page, you think you are following a particular character, and then on the next page that character dies. This is an excellent book for learning how to “kill your darlings”. This concept is one that all writers should be familiar with. You have to stick to the truth of the story and sometimes that means killing your characters or “darlings”.
Most of the YA I’ve read lately have had their characters in dangerous situations, and I’ve kept reading to see how they handle it. But, I get bored. I’m not scared for the characters because I know that the reader-character bond holds some sort of protection for the character. Higson throws this concept out the window. I was on the edge of my seat genuinely rooting for these characters because I didn’t know if they would actually make it.
The zombies were horrifying, but the children were resilient. The story itself was also intriguing. Higson drew us into each child’s story, presented them with problems, and how they handled them. This is -hands down- a must read. For readers, you won’t be bored. You will enjoy the story and love the characters. You will want to read the next book. For writers, you could learn a lot from Higson. He knows how to keep a plot moving, how to kill characters, and keep a reader on the edge of their seat without all the cheap tricks.