Author: Charlie Higson
Australian Publisher: Penguin Books Australia
Date of Publication: September 2010
Length: 464 pages
From Penguin: A TERRIBLE DISEASE IS STRIKING EVERYONE OVER THE AGE OF FOURTEEN. DEATH WALKS THE STREETS. NOWHERE IS SAFE.
Maxie, Blue and the rest of the Holloway crew aren't the only kids trying to escape the ferocious adults who prey on them. Jack and Ed are best friends, but their battle to stay alive tests their friendship to the limit as they go on the run with a mismatched group of other kids – nerds, fighters, misfits. And one adult. Greg, a butcher, who claims he's immune to the disease. They must work together if they want to make it in this terrifying new world. But as a fresh disaster threatens to overwhelm London, they realize they won't all survive.
In terms of its relationship to The Enemy, The Dead is a prequel, set approximately one year before. It begins just after disaster has struck, with a terrible virus infecting those over the age of fourteen and turning them into infected, hobbling re-animated corpses. We begin at an English all-boys boarding school, where the surviving students are about to head off in search of other kids – amongst them are best friends Jack and Ed, who’s friendship is put to the test by the new, hostile environment they find themselves in.
Similarly to The Enemy, The Dead features a large cast of characters, however it does focus strongly on Jack and Ed. There is also the very creepy (very, very creepy) Greg – one of the few adults featured in the series (and those who have read The Enemy will surely recognise him). The Dead certainly felt more male-centric in terms of voice than The Enemy, but there is a trio of school girls, who join the boys on their travels and make for some great comedic moments (amidst quite a chilling story – it’s something Higson does very well – in between the violence and chaos, we are reminded that these are still kids).
The Dead is jam-packed with action, nail-biting suspense and some epic zombie-kills. I was planning to do a body-count comparison between the two books, but thought that might be a bit much! Like The Enemy, The Dead has a few different narrative strands running at once, though the story felt more contained and slightly easier to follow. Thematically, The Dead continues to look at leadership, power and survival, it also has a surprising (and interesting) examination on religion and the role of faith. Higson manages to weave these themes rather seamlessly throughout the story, and makes them relatable to a range of readers.
Whilst I read The Dead after The Enemy (in publication order), you could definitely read them in narrative chronological order (meaning read The Dead first). I loved the small overlaps between the books (most prominent in the ending of The Dead) and there is some excellent foreshadowing of events to come (or if you’ve read The Enemy already, an explanation of what’s happened) and I think the next book, The Fear, will continue to weave this series together nicely.