I haven't written a stand-alone book review on unadulterated.us in a while - but for this book, the last in a series that I read start to finish, as soon as each book came out, I must. It has been quite a journey for the kids in these books, who have battled their way through swarms of diseased, cannibalistic adults and formed their own societies, legions, and alliances - and it's been a wild six years for me too.
I reviewed the first book in this series in 2010, way before my sons were teenagers. I had a dim memory of what it was like to clash with my parents when I was a teenager, but my own kids' teenage years were still well in the future. Now, I have a 13-year-old and an almost 15-year-old, and the empathy I felt upon first meeting Higson's child characters - terrified, traumatized, desperate to find safety and shelter - has if anything only intensified now that I've witnessed anew the courage and ability that teenagers are capable of, while still needing encouragement and affection.
By the way - I have noticed lately many book series that start strong but then gradually or abruptly fall into a pit after the first or second book. You know the series I'm talking about. You get the suspicion that they stopped getting edited once the movie rights were sold. Not so for The Enemy. The relationships still have places to go. The dialogue is still sharp. Conflicts that began several volumes ago continue to evolve and twist. There is NO pointless running around.
And best of all, seven books in - SEVEN books in! and Charlie Higson's kids - Small Sam, Ed, Akkie, Maxie, David, Fish-Face, Nicola, Jester, Shadowman, Paddy, Ryan, Jordan and the rest of the IMMENSE cast of characters, despite all that they have witnessed and committed, despite being scarred and sorrowful, numb, determined, inured to violence, accustomed to responsibility and guilt, and in many many ways performing as adults... are still NOT adults. Seven books in, and Charlie has somehow managed to keep writing them as kids. This is an important point - many if not most novels that put kids in the action hero role do not manage this trick. Their teens run and jump and stab and crack jokes, and all that separates them from Jack Reacher or Jason Bourne is that they do not usually get laid.
I imagine it is tempting to write these characters to be as cool as their readers would wish themselves to be when the tsunami hits or the zombies attack or whatever. It's got to be easier, that's for sure, to forget all the insecurities and bad decision making of childhood when you're writing a plot-propelled book. And so Charlie deserves immense credit for loving them enough to stay true to them.
There are a couple of other things I appreciate about Charlie. One of them is that there's a map in the front of the book, and he gets distances right. If a group is walking from the Natural History Museum to the Houses of Parliament, how long does that take? How long would it take to walk from Arsenal Stadium to the Tower of London? How about if you had to fight your way there, hiding at night?
Because sometimes you'll read a book and the characters walk, like, out of town and past the industrial park and into farmland in like an hour, and I always wonder: what kind of 'town' are we living in here? She saw the mountain, and then ran a while and was there. Really? That's when I just give up. She... ran across a whole valley? You get the feeling that Charlie has walked his characters' walks.
Anyway. I recommend this series ALL OVER THE PLACE. I am so happy that it ended so satisfactorily. I did cry. I did need to refer back to previous books to remember where Ryan came from, for example, and which kids were at the War Museum before it burned down. But that was a pleasure too. I'll miss these guys.