The sickness destroyed everyone over the age of fourteen. All across London, diseased adults are waiting, hungry predators with rotten flesh and ravaged minds. Small Sam and his unlikely ally, The Kid, have survived. They’re safe with Ed and his friends at the Tower of London, but Sam is desperate to find his sister.
Their search for Ella means Sam and The Kid must cross the forbidden zone. And what awaits them there is more terrifying than any of the horror they’ve suffered so far…
I’ll admit from the start that I’m a big fan of Charlie Higson’s The Enemy series; I loved his Young Bond books, which I found an inspired introduction to the British super-spy, and I devoured the first three instalments – The Enemy, The Dead and The Fear – with the same hunger that the grown-ups, strangers, sickos, or whatever you’d like to call them, seem to have for the flesh of their own children. I don’t often read horror and some of the scenes in these books have been just about on the edge of my scare-factor tolerance, but Higson’s writing continues to be incredibly impressive, balancing action, character development, backstory and an increasingly intriguing mythology which is beginning of explain the origins of the horrific disease which has infected everyone over the age of 15, at least in Great Britain.
The Sacrifice is book four in The Enemy series. Here, we’re travelling with a pair of younger boys, Sam and The Kid, who speaks in riddling pop-culture references, as they struggle to complete Sam’s mission to reunite with sister Ella. They’re assisted by Ed and the Tower of London crew, but we also run into character sets from previous books – the kids at the Houses of Parliament, The Natural History Museum but also a new group, or at least one we haven’t heard of since they first reached London – the cult of The Lamb and The Goat, lead by religious fanatic Matt. They’ve based themselves in St Paul’s Cathedral, fittingly, and they appear to have captured a grown-up different to all the rest, one who seems to have some kind of special knowledge of power. And they’re doing whatever they can to keep him on side.
There’s also another strand, where we follow Shadowman, who we first met in an outdoor camp, but who has now decided to follow, observe, and learn from, a group of grown-ups who he refers to as The Fear. One of these grown-ups seems, again, to be different, more in control somehow – a ‘man’ with a St George’s Cross vest who readers of the series will recognise from previous books, in more than one capacity. This is just one example of something I’ve loved throughout the series – Higson has an amazing talent for interweaving strands of plot and character. I like to imagine he has one of those enormous draw-on boards, covered in photos and arrows connecting all the different characters as they travel onwards towards their fate, because otherwise keeping track of the myriad meetings and events in this plot is nothing short of a miracle.
The new aspect I really enjoyed in The Sacrifice was finding more about the origins of the sickness itself, and the way in which it is changing and evolving. We started, at the end of The Fear, to get a subtle hint, but The Sacrifice gives us some strong nudges as to how this disaster unfolded and therefore a first step towards thinking about stopping it. The only problem is, the sickness itself is developing; this is another real masterstroke from Higson. As soon as the kids begin to feel more secure, as if they may have developed strategies to cope with the way the world has become, the goalpost shift, back into the unknown. Can the kids see what’s in front of them in time to survive?
It’s incredibly hard to review book four of a seven-book series; it’s even harder to review a book in a series you enjoy so much! All I’ll add is that I can’t recommend this series highly enough to readers who love excitement, action, gore, horror but also excellent prose style, plotting and character development. If you’ve not already started it, start now. And if you have, don’t stop!
The Sacrifice is available now from Penguin, at £6.99