One of my least favorite books from 9th grade English class was Lord of the Flies. I hated its theme, I hated its deliberate cruelty, I hated its vision of an island that was about the exact opposite of Island of the Blue Dolphins, a far more preferable tale. The Enemy is Lord of the Flies amped up, and while adding zombies would seem a natural fit for addressing survival in a world without adults, not even the undead can (re)animate this into a pleasurable tale.
Essentially, The Enemy combines zombies with the world of adolescents, scatters in a generous helping of random violence, all in a base layer of basic prose. Something has either killed the adults or turned them into zombies, leaving small groups of children under sixteen on their own. The setting is basic urban survival, and a band of youngsters is steadily growing more desperate when a pied piper comes to lead them to London. Specifically, to Buckingham Palace–I suppose if you are going to hole up in the apocalypse, why not go big? There’s a parallel plot with a member of the group, Small Sam, seeking to rejoin his sister Ella after getting separated, and another limited storyline that deals with a boy who didn’t want to leave their fortress. Overall, while the plot wasn’t particularly surprising, it does moves quickly, despite kids arguing virtually every step of the way.There were a couple of interesting offshoots, but unfortunately, they were likely there as teasers, as they weren’t addressed before story end. For instance,
why did the zombies carry away Little Sam and not immediately eat him? What were the grey beasts near the zoo trying to do? Why were the zombies in the London mall playing dress-up? Why were the grown-ups able to live underground but “melted” up top?
Most of these questions come with the Small Sam storyline, where he is too focused on survival to question the larger issues. To some degree, I like a story that doesn’t need to explain everything, and allows the reader to puzzle out solutions. Yet, without integration into the larger whole, the questions seemed to mostly fall into the deus ex machina category of unexplained actions/events that propel the plot forward or solve Sam’s current problem.
Hisgen clearly has a developed world vision, and despite the unadorned prose, is able to create an atmosphere of depression and even despair. Clearly, while all are exhausted, a number of the children are also emotionally overwhelmed, burdened with the lives of those depending on them. Atmosphere excelled, but as mentioned earlier, it’s the kind of skill that will fail to entertain me. Add in a willingness to sacrifice characters and a scattershot third-person subjective narrator and emotional engagement becomes a critical problem. Perhaps the Small Sam storyline is done to mitigate the emotional distancing, but for me, it wasn’t enough. Both times through I noted dialogue is done well–the voices did seem like kids speaking, and if it later treads into well-worn philosophical territory of defining humanity and rebuilding society, it at least takes awhile to get there.
The zombies are largely there as action propellents, inciting the kids into ill-planned action. Once they serve their purpose, they are largely left behind to focus on the social dynamics of the children, so zombie-fans beware. Were you questioning why I mentioned Lord of the Flies?
Ultimately, it felt like a read for a more masochistic kind of mood–one where I don’t mind the violence, the negative philosophy, the lack of emotional connection, the basic prose and too many teasers.