The Dead - Charlie Higson I have had The Dead on my TBR for over a year. I actually started it, found it a bit too intense at the time, and set it aside for another day. October always puts me in the mood for scary stuff, so I pulled the book out again and wondered why I ever put it down in the first place. This is a fast-paced, harrowing vision of the future, with likeable kids left to fend off the crazed adults who are trying to eat them. Yeah, that’s pretty scary and nightmarish, but Charlie Higson’s The Enemy series is so compelling that you want to see what happens next. The only thing I am still iffy on is how the “sickos” got sick in the first place, but that is often a complaint with post-apocalyptic stories; there usually isn’t a concrete reason for why things are now the way they are, and I need all of those background details to be fully invested in a story. We get some background that was lacking from the first book, The Enemy, but there is still so much to know about what exactly went wrong.

Like The Enemy, The Dead follows a small group of kids as they struggle to survive in the terrible new world they wake up to. All adults have contracted some weird disease that makes them flesh eating, pus-filled monsters. They crave the tender flesh of kids, which makes it even more frightening. These awful, nightmarish creatures are consumed with the need to eat kids. Yuck! They are weakened by sunlight, but if a group of yummy kids wanders by, the zombies will venture out into the sunlight for a tasty snack. This book proves that it’s not easy being a kid! At any moment, some gross, oozy adult may swoop around a corner and eat you!

I liked the protagonists, which made it hard when several of them met with an early demise. I will give Higson credit for shocking me several times with the unexpected death of one of my favorite characters. Talk about heart-breaking! I have walked through the monster infested streets of London, gotten to know and like most of the cast, and then had my heart ripped out every time someone succumbed to death, either from sickness, grievous wounds, or becoming dinner for the zombies. Sob! This made reading a very tense experience, because I was so afraid that another favorite would meet his maker. At point one, after Ed crawls into a house in a desperate bid for safety, only to find it filled with zombies, I screamed and had to set the book aside for an hour or so. Gah! I felt as though I was working through an intense cardio workout as the end of the book approached. I couldn’t breathe! I felt all trembly! I wondered how the younger kids hadn’t all keeled over in fear! Even the teens were at a distinct disadvantage. The adults were bigger, stronger, and they only had one thought in their rotting brains – EAT THE KIDS!! GAHHH!!!

Some of the action and descriptions were a bit over the top, and only added to the gore-factor, without progressing the plot much. While traumatic and action-packed, Jack’s journey back home didn’t serve much purpose other than to gross the reader out. An arena filled with bloated, rotting corpses? Check. Three brave boys with a bit too much curiosity? Check. A gooey, ooey race through mountains of stinky, maggot infested bodies to escape a zombie horde? Yup, check, you got that, too. I felt that much of this particular adventure dragged at the pacing, and it didn’t keep me engaged in this story thread. I kept longing to get back to the other kids, get back to the day to day survival, and leave Jack’s selfish side adventure in the past.

The story roared back to life for me shortly after that, and I stayed engaged until the end. I don’t think that it’s necessary to read The Enemy before diving into The Dead, as the events take place prior to the first book. I’ve got The Fear, the third book in the series, on my wish list, and I am curious to see where the story goes next. Originally a planned trilogy, the series will now be seven volumes, according to a quote from the author. I wonder how long he can carry the momentum, and keep the plot fresh and exciting. I’m eager to find out!

Grade: B