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I started reading Charlie Higson books a over a year ago with my son, who was six at the time. We started with the Young James Bond books - which I enjoyed so much I bought The Enemy for myself. Of course my son wanted to read it too - and many would argue that a book with children being ripped apart and eaten alive by diseased "Mothers and Fathers" was not appropriate for such a young a child. In all honesty - I had some doubts myself - so we read it together so I could gauge his reactions. Charlie Higson books have never scared my children. Nor does any story with monsters - the undead or anything along these lines. When I asked my son about this he looks at me like I have gone soft in the head. How can anyone be scared by things that are not real? But he did enjoy the books - at least until Higson killed off one of his favourite characters - and they did motivate him to push himself in breaking through from picture books to more advanced reading. What do you get when you give a six year old Charlie Higson books? A child who learns to love reading - who reads very well and can now read whatever he wants to.
While my son is still annoyed at the author - and not sure if he wants to read the most recent book in the series - I couldn't wait to lay hands on myself and ordered it the day it was released. Granted, this book is meant for a much younger audience - but I loved the series. I read the entire book in one sitting. I can't say that I normally like Zombie books. I've tried another one and hated it - but this is not your traditional zombie book. True there is some blood and gore - but not really excessive. There are deaths - and Higson doesn't just kill the new character - old favourites can be in danger as well. The underlying tension of the diseased horde of adults ( and these are true zombies they are plague victims who eat human flesh- struck down by a plague that only affected the adults) is always present, but the book is more about the ways in which the young people cope with the threat and attempt to recreate society than slash and bash violence.
Higson creates a wide variety of characters with very believable personality traits from the Knight in shining armour type - although he has a mutilated face - Ed to the Religious fanatic Mad Matt, the Megalomaniac David and Jordan - a boy whose obsession for military history and war games has left him the perfect soldier and general in the new world but was most likely a bit of an outcast before the disease hit. Shadowman plays a key role in this book - a loner before the illness - he keeps to himself now as well, but he knows he must stop the gathering army of adults. In the earlier books most of the diseased had very little brain function - making them easy prey. Now a powerful leader has emerged among the adults - bringing them together with a common purpose - to hunt the undiseased flesh of the young.
Most of this book will centre on Ed and the Shadowman, as well as a pair of young boys, only 9 years of age whom Ed had taken under his wing in previous book. The children are fair haired, gentle and courageous Small Sam, and a strange child who most certainly would have been labeled as autistic before the disease hit known only as the Kid. These children so closely match the prophecies of religious fanatic Mad Matt, that it frightens many children - and Matt will do anything to get them. Is all part of an insane child's delirium - as Matt certainly is insane - or is there more to it? Does one of these boys hold the key to the survival of the rest? I most certainly will not be the one to tell you.
This book portrays the full range of human personality types. As teenagers, the older children would have been considered adults in centuries past and they must play the role of adults here as well. Providing food, shelter and protection to each other and looking after the younger ones. Disasters bring out the best and worst in people. Some people rise to the challenge and do anything they can to help others - people like Ed and even the loner Shadowman. Jordan may hold on to power with an iron fist - but he does so to maintain order and protect the weak as well. Others however are motivated by greed and selfishness, or simply a desire to be important, and of course Mad Matt has cracked - and turned to religious fanaticism - will he go as far as human sacrifice? You also have the other characters some of whom do terrible things, but not always out of evil intentions there is a chance of redemption here - and an act of pure Christian faith as well - which balances out the religion as weapon of madmen scenario. These are all reactions that I believe we could expect in a post apocalyptic future. I believe this because we have seen enough of these scenarios throughout history. The fact that it is children taking on these roles does not make it any less likely - these are all very human reactions.
Having looked at few reviews on Amazon for other books by the same author - I have noticed that I am not the only adult to enjoy his books. I feel that many books written for adults tend to rely too much on sex and romance to sell the books. There is neither in this book - nor has he relied on gore and violence to fill the pages. Instead he has relied on strong story telling - which is why I enjoyed it so much. As mentioned - my son enjoyed the first books in the series at age 6, but this book is written for the young adult level and I feel it would be at its very best for teens.
Some people will find it too violent for children, but I feel that it all depends on the children. My children are not phased at all by fantasy violence. They were both worried by the mass extinctions in prehistoric times, and the oldest has expressed some concern over issues in history books and on the news. The Japanese Earthquakes and Tsunami upset him. Fictional zombies do not. I would strongly recommend that parents of very young children read this with the child - or read it on their own and talk about it with them - but I would not recommend censorship. Different children like different types of books - if we limit what children can read - we will further limit the number of children who do read. Reading the books your children read yourself though not only allows you to discuss any sensitive issues - I believe it does really encourage children to read as well. - it makes our family into our own miniature book club. And in some cases, such as this one, I find I enjoy the books so much I can not stop reading even when the child has lost interest.
I would certainly recommend this book to wide range of ages, but I would not recommend that new readers start with this book. Too much of this story depends on the developments in The Dead with Matt's religious visions and the relationships. This book would be readable with out the first books - but not nearly so good. The books in this series are:
This book does not conclude the story - so we will have to wait for book five which seems to be building up to an epic battle between good and evil - but there just might be something else in the mix as well. Which will save the world the forces of good - or perhaps the forces of science?
The book cover warns of strong language - but I don't actually remember reading any.
* On a side note - I wrote to the author some time back asking him to consider more graphic novels as his Silverfin Graphic novel made such a difference in my sons' reading. He actually wrote back and seems very concerned with children's literacy - something you will notice even more from his interviews - but he definitely knows how children behave and he advocates any reading - books - comics or online. I did casually mention that with a book on the tower of London he really should consider working the ravens in and I was pleased to notice that he has done so in this book. Unfortunately - he has no control over whether they produce more graphic novels. Silverfin didn't sell well enough for the publisher to continue the series but there is some hope of Japanese Manga publisher picking up the Enemy series which would be wonderful. If I were in charge of education for this country - my first act would be to buy the rights to this series and make it into graphic novels for the schools. I think books like this in a wide variety of formats could do more for literacy then any high cost programmes. If you make sure children really enjoy reading - make them want to spend their time in books - they will become better readers.