Happy New Year everyone! Here’s to all the fantastic books that I’ll discover over the next twelve months!

For today’s review I’m going to be looking at Ann Aguirre’s debut young adult novel, Enclave. It was first published in 2010 and won the 2012 RITA for Best Young Adult Romance. Enclave is a post-apocalyptic dystopian novel and forms the first part of the Razorland Trilogy. It is followed by Outpost (2012) and Horde (2013).

In the underground settlement of the College Enclave, man has survived the destruction of the surface world through a strict hierarchy. Depending on their physical attributes and personality, people are assigned jobs as breeders, builders or hunters and only the strong are permitted to survive. Enforcing these rules is the only thing that has saved them from starvation, disease and death at the claws of the deformed Freaks that roam the disused subway tunnels.

Despite the fact that her strong genes would make her a good breeder, Deuce has always been certain of one thing – she wants to become a hunter. As her naming day passes, she is finally given her chance. Teamed with Fade, an outsider in her community, she begins to patrol the tunnels in search of food.

It is only on her second day as a hunter that she discovers a small boy from the neighbouring settlement. He brings a dire warning – the Freaks have grown smarter and have wiped out his home. As Deuce and Fade return to their elders with this knowledge, they discover that it falls on deaf ears. Their society suits them well and they are unwilling to change any aspect of it against a threat that they do not believe possible.

Yet Deuce is gradually growing suspicious of her elder’s actions. Through her friendship with Fade, she begins to see that they are not as just as she once believed. When she finds herself exiled for a crime that she did not commit, Deuce discovers the extent of their lies. There is a surface world and it’s more dangerous than anything that she could ever have imagined.

Before I begin, I should warn you that Enclave contains themes that some readers may find upsetting. It is a very dark story and, although less graphic than some of the other novels that I’ve reviewed, does contain scenes of rape, violence against women, gore and mutilation. Although the back of the book compares it to The Hunger Games, I personally felt that it had more in common with Charlie Higson’s The Enemy series and so is really not suitable for the squeamish.

My views of Enclave are very mixed and I think it’s clear to me that this novel will divide readers. First of all, it is quite short for a young adult novel. While this is not always a bad thing (I’ve read great stories that were shorter than this one), the author did seem to have some issues with pacing the story. It runs along at a breakneck pace, rarely slowing down or pausing to allow for moments of quiet reflection. While this was exciting at first and did allow for me to quickly understand how the enclave functioned, it did cause me to occasionally lose interest.

I’ve never read a novel that moved quite as fast as this one. It didn’t allow for any tension to build at all. Deuce goes looking for someone and finds her in the next paragraph. At one point she is even captured by a vicious gang only to escape from them within five pages. For a novel with so much action, it quickly began to feel stale. For me, there needs to be a balance. It takes quiet moments to develop a character, to make me care about them and their situation. If I don’t bond with a character, I don’t care what happens to them when they are in mortal danger. I wondered in reading this if it was because the author was just unfamiliar with how to write for young adults. I notice that she’d written a few adult novels before this one but I haven’t read any of them. Perhaps it’s just a case of oversimplifying an adult story to the point that it feels wafer thin, as opposed to actually writing a novel that is truly aimed at teen readers.

I already touched on the fact that this novel has little in common with The Hunger Games. I know that it’s standard now to put this claim on the cover of every science fiction story but I do feel that it could lead to a lot of disappointment. The first half of the story was pretty interesting and did have an undercurrent of rebellion which raised my curiosity, the second half of the book descended into a zombie holocaust survival story. Unfortunately, this meant that any depth that the story was building was immediately scrapped. The enclave has no importance in the second half of the story. All of that world building and development of Deuce’s friends is lost. It served no purpose other than to introduce the two important protagonists and force them out into a desolate world.

Once Deuce reaches the surface, we enter very familiar territory. Although Deuce’s society can seem pretty oppressive at times, it’s understandable. I could imagine what must have happened to cause them to reach that point and its grasp that certain things – personal hygiene, clean water, population control – are important if they wish to survive. On the surface, how the tribes have survived makes far less sense. Essentially, they are just played for shock value, which is where I feel this story will divide its audience.

While the story is never graphic, it is still pretty clear on the subject of what these surface folks (called “gangers”) get up to. Essentially, their society has descended into a rape culture. Women are beaten to the point of submission and then gang raped to keep the population up. The men view themselves as hunters and exist, essentially, just to catch food, fight each other and (it is implied) engage in paedophilia. Personally, I found this to be disgusting. While one can argue that this is entirely the point, that society has devolved to animalism, it still felt senseless. Not even animals behave in this way. Rape should never be used for shock value in a story – it furthers the belief that it is just something bad that happens to women. If rape is used, the consequences should always be shown. It shouldn’t be a plot device, it should be part of the story – an integral part of the development of the victim. This is not how it is used in this novel in any way.

By the end of the tale, the core cast consists of four people. Deuce, our heroine, can be likable at times but her lack of empathy sometimes makes her difficult to relate to. While she is a product of her upbringing, we are told time and time again that she has a “breeder’s heart”. I never really got a feel for this. My understanding was that the breeders were supposed to be a combination of parents and teachers, able to comfort and nurture the children they raised. Deuce had such little empathy that she is unable to comfort a person after their friend has been killed. Fade, conversely, is a deeply sympathetic character, full of compassion and understanding. He was probably the only likable character in the whole novel. However, the final two characters are where my issues arrive.

Their escape from the gangers lead to two more people joining the group: Stalker, the former gang leader, and Tegan, a girl who has been repeatedly raped and beaten by him. While this could have led to some strong development for both characters, instead Tegan was essentially told to suck it up. While she, at first, wanted revenge against Stalker and desired to kill him in his sleep (a perfectly justifiable sentiment in my eyes), she was forced to travel with him and even be civil to him for the greater good of the group. And nothing more came of this. The story simply implied that Tegan just forgave Stalker and got on with it, while Stalker never showed an iota of remorse for his actions. To make matters worse, the story then began to build a love triangle between Deuce, Stalker and Fade. Not only did the book insist on having the unrepentant rapist join the party, it also gave the main character feelings for him and expected us, the reader, to buy into this as a normal relationship. How the Hell did this thing win a RITA? It causes me to despair the state of the world that this was considered the best YA romance of 2012 (which was, incidentally, the year when The Fault in our Stars was released).

This review is starting to run long now so I’ll just make one more small comment – the ending. While this novel does end better than some of the novels that I’ve reviewed, it is still fairly abrupt. The fact that this story is part of a trilogy is very clear as the group reaches their destination and the story just kind of cuts off, ending with the twist reveal of where the story is set which I had already figured out by the end of the first chapter. While it was at least not a cliffhanger, I was still left underwhelmed by this sudden ending as it seemed to exist purely to make me want to buy the next book.

Anyhow, let’s wrap this up. While Enclave did have a fairly interesting setting and plot for the first half of the story, this quickly deteriorated into standard zombie faire in the second act. The characters were almost entirely unlikable and the novel used horrible things like rape for little more than shock value, leaving a very bad taste in my mouth. We’ll get back to the series in a future review to see if it improves but this really wasn’t the novel for me.

Enclave can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: The Griever’s Mark | Arkham Reviews
  2. Trackback: The Witch Hunter / The Healer | Arkham Reviews

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