Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Razorland: #1 Enclave

The blurp on the cover "For the fans of The Hunger Games - Publishers Weekly" doesn't do Ann Aguirre's new young adult dystopic trilogy Razorland book #1 Enclave.

Here is the summary:

In Deuce’s world, people earn the right to a name only if they survive their first fifteen years. By that point, each unnamed ‘brat’ has trained into one of three groups–Breeders, Builders, or Hunters, identifiable by the number of scars they bear on their arms. Deuce has wanted to be a Huntress for as long as she can remember. As a Huntress, her purpose is clear—to brave the dangerous tunnels outside the enclave and bring back meat to feed the group while evading ferocious monsters known as Freaks. She’s worked toward this goal her whole life, and nothing’s going to stop her, not even a beautiful, brooding Hunter named Fade. When the mysterious boy becomes her partner, Deuce’s troubles are just beginning. Down below, deviation from the rules is punished swiftly and harshly, and Fade doesn’t like following orders. At first she thinks he’s crazy, but as death stalks their sanctuary, and it becomes clear the elders don’t always know best, Deuce wonders if Fade might be telling the truth. Her partner confuses her; she’s never known a boy like him before, as prone to touching her gently as using his knives with feral grace. As Deuce’s perception shifts, so does the balance in the constant battle for survival. The mindless Freaks, once considered a threat only due to their sheer numbers, show signs of cunning and strategy… but the elders refuse to heed any warnings. Despite imminent disaster, the enclave puts their faith in strictures and sacrifice instead. No matter how she tries, Deuce cannot stem the dark tide that carries her far from the only world she’s ever known.

The background is pretty easy to understand. Its dystopic. The world as we know is now dead. Instead of some horrifying cirumstances which controls the lives of the people now, we see the people now live underground - kind of like Jeanne DuPrau's Dystopic saga "The Books of Ember". But take every possible terrible scenario you've ever considered for the future and throw it out the window, Zombies. Yes instead of underground giant monsters (liability here - i haven't read the books - i saw the movie) like DuPrau's dystopic world we have flesh-eating zombies or Freaks as they are called in the book. 

I'm a huge fan of dystopian fiction, with Enclave, Ann Aguirre proves that there is still plenty of creative and terrifying stories to tell about society and how it will end (not with a bang, but with a growl of hunger in this case).

Enclave takes place sometimes after the second holocaust of the Earth. Humanity has suffered immensely from some unknown catastrophe that has occurred. (Most likely an atomic World War III). We're introduced to this world through the eyes of Girl15 who becomes Deuce on her naming day, her birthday. Deuce lives underground and has never gone up to the above. Everyone has a role in the enclave and Deuce's role is to become a Huntress. She will hunt for food in the tunnels. Deuce lives in a dark and dank world both literally and figuratively. Disease is rampant and hygiene is not the best. Some women are solely used to breed children, known as brats, while others keep their fortress strong and safe from the Freaks (Zombies). Freaks are monsters who feed on the flesh of the living and even themselves. They roam the tunnels looking for their next meal. Hunting for food can be dangerous, but Deuce is strong and fast.

Fade, her new partner, is a strange combination of lethal skills and smartass defiance. He isn't from the enclave, he was born topside (above the tunnels where the land is dead and burning rain falls or so the elders say), but no one really believes him. They think he must be from a far away enclave and became lost in the tunnels (which is a miracle in and of itself because of the Freaks who roam around). Wherever he comes from, he is a great fighter and Deuce gradually begins to trust him and is glad he is her partner after they encounter increasingly dangerous stuff.

With post-apocalyptic novels, the settings are for the most part similar. Some sort of disaster has struck, and the survivors live in small pockets, defending themselves against the outside world. Enclave is no different in the general setting, but what fascinated me most about it is what little we're told of the world and what happened to it. The book begins in an enclave underground, a little fortress in the tunnels beneath New York City and eventually takes the reader aboveground, into the ruined world.

The underground world is intriguingly alien, a smoky, cloistered world in which anyone who lives to twenty-five is considered old, and everyone expects to die young. The people of Deuce's enclave live under tight rule that's comforting and oppressing at the same time. It was really interesting to watch Deuce come to the realization that the leaders of the enclave are doing terrible things in the name of protecting the group. As the reader, we come into the story knowing that leaders of little dystopian enclaves tend to do terrible things to keep their society going, but Deuce, having been raised there, is completely naive to it. Even though I knew this as a reader, I was still scared alongside Deuce when she and Fade are exiled to Topside.
Topside is nothing like what Deuce was told. Something terrible did happen in the past, as is evidenced by the ruined city and its ruined citizens, but the air is not deadly. The world, however, is just as deadly as underground, with gangs ruling their territories with violence and Freaks, who are no longer the mindless horde she knows from underground but who seem to be thinking and plotting against humans, roaming the streets.

While Topside, Deuce and Fade pick up two more companions, a gang leader called Stalker and a girl named Tegan, who helps Deuce and Fade escape from the gang. Together, they set out north, for a place Fade's father said was clean and healthy, where they could grow food. The introduction of Stalker and Tegan bring sort of a love... er, square into the story. I'm getting very tired of teen novels with love triangles, mainly because most of the ones I've read recently have felt very artificial.

Luckily, the complex relationships and attractions in Enclave don't feel forced at all; it felt more like the natural progression of feelings, especially for Deuce. She was raised to never think of herself as a sexual or romantic creature, and now that she's free of the enclave's structure, she's finding herself confused about the feelings that have surfaced. At the same time, though, I'm still not a fan of the mixed up love story here. I definitely preferred just Deuce and Fade by themselves.
The romance in this story was also masterfully done. If you are looking for a love story first and foremost, you will not find it here. The adventure comes first and romance second, which, I think truly makes this novel that much more convincing. And, while I hate to say this (because I am a Deuce/Fade supporter all the way), I loved the way Ann kept everything open-ended by the novel's conclusion.

Unfortunately, Outpost (book #2 in this series) does not come out until Fall of 2012 (I kind of died inside when I first saw that on Ann's website). It's a long wait. I know I will be rereading Enclave later in the year. Add Outpost to your "to read" list folks, because you're going to be salivating for the next book in this series.

Overall, Enclave is a fabulous YA debut from Ann Aguirre and if you are a fan of grittier dystopian, check this one out!


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