So, time to add mine to the smattering of reviews out there on the net!
A bit surprisingly and disappointingly, The Dead takes place about a year before the events described in The Enemy. At the end the reasons for this become clear – it provides answers and backgrounds to some events and people from the first book, as well as background to what will probably become a plotline in the third book. I think that clearly Higson has been getting a lot of questions from readers, and he’s had to think about them and provide answers. Heh, always a problem with literature that is essentially illogical – someone will ask you to provide a logic to apply to it.
In the first book we were given to understand that one father in particular from the horde of adult zombies posed more of a threat than the others, since he was a bit clearer in the head and was able to lead other adults on more organized assaults. In this book we get a background to who he is, and why he is as lucid as he is. The clue is the diet of children. In The Dead, some kids figure out that there must be something in the children that protects from the disease, and this is why the adults want to eat them: they can sense that there is something they need in the children’s flesh. This also explains why they’d rather not eat each other, but prefer to prey on children. This also explains the apparently normal adults found in the dark of the Underground tunnels in The Enemy – they’ve both stayed out of the harmful sunlight and munched on minors. So, we’re provided with some medical background, as it were. Apart from this, we’re introduced to a completely new group of kids, which makes the book a bit of a repetition, which in turn meant that I didn’t cry as much this time. This group has escaped their boarding school outside London, and are making their way in to the city. On the way they join a different gang of kids, and once in London they are separated. (There is heavy culling of course. People die like flies. I did cry, I was just used to the idea by now so didn't cry as much as the first time around.)
One of the boarding-school kids is introduced as a religious maniac. I was a bit surprised at this, to be honest. I thought Higson was going to stay away from that area and stick to having all his kids run-of-the-mill secularists. Kids pondering the Wrath of God seem to be more either old-fashioned or American, or a mandatory ingredient in apocalyptic tales for adults. Anyway, I thought this was just Higson adding said mandatory ingredient, so as a matter of fact, I paid so little attention to crazy Matt’s rantings that I was taken by surprise when the last few pages make it clear that this might become a major plotline. Matt believes that the Bible prophesises the coming of the Lamb and the Goat, and that this would be two kids. Or something. I was only skimming those bits, I thought it was just the obligatory crazy! And at the end of The Dead the plotlines from the first and second book converge, and it seems like our two little survivors who against all odds make it to The Tower in The Enemy are going to be seen as The Lamb and The Goat, even by those who previously didn’t believe. I dunno about this, it could turn really really sour. A bit like how American tv shows always have an episode with an open ending indicating that Santa may be real or ghosts may exist. We’ll see.
So on the whole, pretty much a repeat of the first book, something I don’t doubt the kids won’t mind, but us adults find a bit dull. Nonetheless, we’re all geared up and excited now for book no. three in 2011, in which we’ll find out what’s going to happen to all our heroes and heroines. It’ll be a long wait!