The Fallen is the fifth book in the The Enemy series by Charlie Higson - yup, that's Charlie "Fast Show" and "Swiss Tony" Higson. Though officially categorized as young-adult fiction the body count, gore and sheer horror of this zombie-esque apocalypse series means it's absolutely worth reading no matter what your age. Let's put it this way, as a work of sci-fi horror any book from the series will give you the heebeegeebees more than Max Brooks' World War Z. But before we get into The Fallen, a few words about the previous books.
Set in contemporary London the first book, The Enemy tells the story of the group of kids hold up in the Waitrose store on Holloway Road, scavenging for survival while dodging the adult cannibals roaming outside, You see a year before the story starts a plague struck down everyone over the age of 14. The majority died outright, but a fair number survived, transformed into mutant freaks with a burning desire to eat the flesh of the uninfected young. From the off the world the kids are living in is portrayed as a dark, dangerous and frankly pretty hopeless place.
The Enemy followed the Holloway crew as they walked to Buckingham Palace to join up with another larger group of kids led my the megalomaniac David. The second book, The Dead took us back a year to the start of the outbreak and told the story or another group who end up living in the Tower of London. Books three and four, The Fear and The Sacrifice, tell the tale of a new organized band of adults (called sickos or mothers & fathers or strangers by the various groups of kids including one gang held up in the Natural History Museum) led by a brighter-than-the-rest, and so far more dangerous adult know as St. George. Yet another gang take refuge in St Paul's Cathedral having created their own half-baked religion.
The Enemy, The Fear and The Sacrifice take place in roughly the same two-week period and the various characters encounter each other at several intervals, often without they, or the reader knowing who they are until much later when another story line brings the reader to the same point but from a different character's point of view. An overarching plot line is the attempt of Small Sam and his sister Ella to get back together after Sam is abducted from the Waitrose car park in the opening pages of the The Enemy.
The Fallen picks up where the The Enemy ended, with the Holloway kids leaving Buckingham Palace and arriving - in the nick of time - at the Natural History Museum. During the course of the book we learn more about the origin of the disease, follow the Holloway and Museum kids on an ill-fated trip to a medical supply warehouse near Heathrow and see Small Sam and Ella miss each other by a matter of hours yet again as the former turns up at the museum with some the kids from the Tower while Ella and a small party of museum kids make a break for the countryside around Slough.
As in the previous books in the series Higson's writing is assured and pacey. He never gets bogged down in details but equally never skips over things leaving you wanting to know more while his ability to weave together various plot strands remains as impressive as ever. In fact for a series that has grown from a projected three to five to seven books in the writing it is surprisingly coherent.
Valiant attempts are made to anchor the origins of the disease in science than the supernatural; even though the series has come to be popularly regarded as zombie literature the adults are not undead, a fact the kids make continuous reference to. Once killed the adults stay dead. Adding a little extra background dread to proceedings is the continuing slow realization amongst some of the children that after a year the surviving adults are becoming ever more organised and thus an ever greater threat.
A few minor niggles should be mentioned. Some of Higson's teen patois still sounds a bit strained - do kids actually say 'bare' in place of 'very' quite this often? And the decision to trek all way to an industrial park near Heathrow just because it's the address on the labels on some chemical containers being used by the Museum kids who are trying to find out more about the disease feels just a little arbitrary, almost as if the new book had to have a major quest in it at some point to cover some new geography.
But ultimately those are minor quibbles, The Fallen is every bit as readable and scary - the death toll among the kids continues at a frighteningly high level, as you would expect it do if events like this ever came to pass - as the previous books in the series. The big downside? A twelve month await until the next installment.