It’s been a year since the sickness infected everyone over the age of 16 and turned them into flesh-eating monsters. DogNut and his crew have holed up in the Tower of London where they’ve been able to carve out a life for themselves, raiding for supplies by day and hiding in their fortress at night when the sickos are most active. But DogNut is getting restless. Not only is he tired of being cooped up in the Tower, he yearns for a position with more leadership and power. Organizing an expedition into the heart of London to see if other kids might have survived the epidemic --- and hoping to find the beautiful Brooke he last saw crossing the Lambeth Bridge during the fire a year ago --- DogNut leads a group of eight kids up the Thames and into the unknown.
"Though I recommend the series for its page-turning action and gore, my favorite aspect is the different strategies kids employ for survival and civilization."
THE FEAR is the third installment in Charlie Higson’s series The Enemy, set in post-apocalyptic London where children fight for survival. While the primary enemy in these books has always been the shambling, zombie-like adults who feed on the flesh of children, Higson’s latest makes it clear that there is a new problem that faces the children who have survived: other children. As DogNut and his group search for their friends among the various settlements in museums and government buildings --- and the hunters and squatters living in the streets --- their pressing problem besides the sickos is children who have become desperate or power hungry enough to attack other children. Whether it’s the despotic David King who has set up a totalitarian state in Buckingham Palace, or crew mates left behind in moments of unexpected horror, THE FEAR is about the bonds of personal loyalty that are stretched to a breaking point in a world dominated by violence.
Frequently compared to LORD OF THE FLIES, this series offers an intriguing look at the different strategies for survival in a world without adults. In an interview with Teenreads.com in 2010, Higson resisted the comparison, instead saying he preferred to think of it as an epic adventure on the scale of The Lord of the Rings, which “starts small and domestic and keeps expanding and deepening until it’s about saving the world itself.” Expanding on the comparison, he said he felt his series was more optimistic than LORD OF THE FLIES, which depicts children descending into savages when removed from civilization: “In any society there is good and bad, but at least my kids do try and create a society. I wanted to portray a positive image of kids, who are often given a bad press these days, and show how, left to themselves, they’re not as useless and anti-social as they’re sometimes painted.”
Though THE FEAR features some very upsetting betrayals between major characters --- kids who get left behind in moments of panic, and one deliberate act of treason that threatens the civilization these survivors have carefully built --- the themes of loyalty and friendship still come through. That DogNut and his crew would even attempt to find friends and family from which they have become separated in such a chaotic and dangerous world is itself an act of heroism. Higson’s comparison to The Lord of the Rings --- or the epic medieval sagas on which it is based --- seems apt three books into the series, which is just as riveting as it was at its beginning and shows no signs of ending or becoming less interesting. The threads that connect each of these books --- which can be read in any order --- are just beginning to tighten, and there are enough unanswered questions that readers will be left hungry for more.
Though I recommend the series for its page-turning action and gore, my favorite aspect is the different strategies kids employ for survival and civilization. When DogNut and his crew finally reunite with their friends, some of them are found living in the Natural History Museum, where the nerdy “brain-trust” kids from book two have created a stronghold based on science. Using the museum labs, not only are they studying the disease that has afflicted all adult members of the population, they are also trying to rebuild the knowledge base that was lost when the disease hit.
Among them is Chris, a voracious reader in THE DEAD who has become the Natural History Museum’s librarian and scribe. Collecting the stories of each of the survivors he meets has become his life’s work. When DogNut resists Chris’ request to record his story, saying it wouldn’t be interesting, Chris responds: “I’m interested… And others will be too. We’re the new generation. We’re the survivors. We’re making a whole new world here. In the future, kids are going to want to know what happened. How it was. I think your journey, crossing London, could be really important, because you’ve taken the first steps to uniting the kids all around London…. We’re all in a book --- this book. We’re all in the story. Tonight we’re writing down your part in it, DogNut.”
I suspect this statement more than any other in the book reflects Higson’s commitment to creating a series that is as morally serious as it is riveting to read. It also holds the key to what I suspect readers will find in future books. It will be something more than “More zombies! More blood! More flesh-eating!” that Higson has promised for each of his sequels, but a quest in which the most unlikely heroes --- children --- can and will save a world savaged and brutalized by adults.
Reviewed by Sarah A. Wood on June 28, 2012