* Prices may differ from that shown
My apologies to anyone who read this previously. I had mistakenly reviewed 'The Dead' in this place. This is the correct review for 'The Fear'.
'The Fear' is the most recent of Charlie Higson's "zombie" books. Zombie is not quite correct in terminology though, and the word is not used in these books. This book is not about the undead. Instead it deals with the survivors of a catastrophic plague which has infected every person over the age of 14 in a very short period of time. Many of the infected simply died, but those who survived have turned into insane creatures gripped with psychopathic rage who hunt , rip apart, and eat the uninfected - which of course means children. They are known by a variety of names, sometimes by their former profession: teachers, firemen, policemen, even a soldier. Sometimes they are simply known as grown ups, sickos, or strangers. But the most chilling name for these creatures is Mothers and Fathers. Higson has taken every source of protection and comfort for a child and turned them into the enemy.
Charlie Higson wrote 'The Enemy' first and then wrote back and wrote 'The Dead' as a prequel to this series. These books do not have a strict chronological order, and that does lead to a few bumps and one real incongruity when reading the entire series. It also means there is no order in which you can completely avoid spoilers for whichever book you read last. I would however recommend this order:
1. The Dead - this takes place only a few weeks after the infection has started.
2. The Fear - this follows on directly from The Dead, taking off just where the previous book ended and following the same group of children.
3. This book begins 11 days after the beginning of The Dead, but the ending of this is included in the Dead. This book focuses on a different group of children, from further away which have now been drawn into the groups in inner London
The Fear serves as the mechanism to draw the disparate groups together. This will combine the stories of the Enemy with those of The Dead. It will also bring together the stories of all the different groups of children scattered throughout London. This book is very obviously building up to a climax that I expect will come in the 4th book. I'm not at all pleased to have to wait.
The Fear begins one year after the plague has struck. A small group of children set off to try and relocate some of their friends or family members. As they travel across the plague ridden city they become the common thread, weaving all the other stories together. Small groups of children have banded together and taken up residence in buildings which they can defend from attacks by hungry Mothers and Fathers. These include The Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, The Houses of Parliament, and The Museum of Natural History. There is also a rag tag group living in tents outside the palace, an area which has significantly less grown ups. A few children live a nomadic life as Hunters, wiping out threatening adults in exchange for payment from the settled groups.
In some cases, the character of the leaders of each group clearly affected the choice of location. In others the location may have affected the children living there. The group in the tower are very much a military unit. Those living in the museum have become the most advanced, many of the children acting as miniature scientists. They have generators going to power computers, microscopes, and a small collection of captive adults for scientific research. They have also collected as many books as they could save, trying to preserve the knowledge of the past. But their own record of the tales of each survivor may provide the clues they will need to stay alive as things grow even more dangerous. Those living in parliament have become miniature politicians, including a little Prime Minister, while the leader of the palace group fancies himself as the new king of England.
The best thing about these varied groups is that they appeared to have abandoned all the prejudices of the past. Race, gender, sexuality - these have become completely irrelevant. Each member of the society is valued for who they are. Many who struggled for acceptance before the change are valued members, even leaders now. In a society so small each skill is needed and the very things that set them apart may help their group to survive now. I think many children will enjoy reading about heroes they can identify with personally and these characters are very much like a mix of children you would find anywhere. I think most children will find at least one character who is similar to them self in ways , and whom they can identify with.
I do not like to make an issue of race, but I this is the first series I have come across where there are very strong young black men as leaders. I only mention this as I do think children would also enjoy reading about heroes of their own race sometimes. Of course some of the girls are leaders to - this is a society where leadership is bestowed upon the most fit regardless of other factors. There is only character who places any importance on physical appearances and this is a fault she overcomes. Of course my son doesn't notice any of this. He is not even really aware of racism, sexism or any of the isms with the exception of sectarianism which he has said is "pretty stupid".
I enjoyed this book immensly. The zombies were just a side issue to me. The real story was the development of a new society. the formation and testing of ties of loyalty, friendships and relationships between the characters. I also enjoyed the growth of the main characters as they matured and usually became better people than they were the year before. War and adversity do bring out both the best and the worst of people and many ordinary children do become heroes. There is even a very gentle and tender love story interwoven with the other stories here.
My son on the other hand enjoyed the fighting and battles and the use of a castle as a base. As a boy - he thrives on adventure and adrenaline. But he enjoyed the joking and laughter every bit as much. I did have doubts about reading this to him, or allowing him to read it. There is very extreme and graphically described violence towards children here, made worse by the fact that the characters are so realistic and likable. He wasn't well pleased when one he particularly liked did not survive, but he clearly distinguishes between fact and fiction. He has not been frightened at all by this story - he says you can't be afraid of something that is not real and everyone knows zombies are not real. It is just a good story to him. Still I could see this terrifying some children. If you are buying this for a young child and would like to know more, please feel free to message me. I would also very strongly recommend reading the book first yourself.
I would also advise that there is strong language which some may find offensive. I found myself to embarrassed to read a few words - which gave my son a good giggle as he sits reading along silently with me as I read this out loud. This is his way of making sure I don't skip any particularly gory bits. The language is not over done though and is completely appropriate to the characters. I would not edit any of it if I were able to.
I did really enjoy this book. I can't wait for the next one and will certainly be buying it immediately upon release. But the best part of this book has been how strongly it encouraged my son to read. I am very strongly against adults pushing children to hard with reading. I think these things come in their own time. But when you have a series so good that a child can not stand to put the book down, this encourages children to push them self into further reading skills and I have seen my sons reading level surge forward with Charlie Higson's books. At times he simply can not wait for bedtime to hear more of this - or has sat up on his own to find out what happened next. This is really very difficult reading material for a 6 year old, but it is so good that he does manage. I honestly think more books like this in schools and libraries would go a long way to combating illiteracy.