Ann Aguirre is one of my favorite authors, particularly for her Sirantha Jax series, which is a science fiction romance. I’ve been eagerly awaiting Enclave since I first heard that Aguirre would be trying her hand at YA dystopia. This is the first installment of the Razorland series.
The Premise: In the enclave, children have numbers, not names, unless they live till their fifteenth birthday. Then they’re given a naming ceremony and a place as a Breeder, Builder, or Hunter in the society. Deuce (formerly Girl15), has just been named and given a spot amongst the Hunters – an honor she’s been training for as long as she can remember. Now she can leave the enclave, and bring her people food, and she can protect them from the Freaks – creatures that live in the tunnels that would like nothing more than to feast on human flesh. All her life, Deuce has only known a world that is underground, where the oldest is in his early 20s, and where people don’t live for more than that. It’s a world with very little, but it’s the only world Deuce has ever known. Deuce is partnered with Fade, the only Hunter who wasn’t born in their enclave. Fade has never really fit into the enclave, but he’s the best fighter they have, and Deuce is eager to prove herself worthy of being assigned to him. But being a Hunter brings a different perspective to all that Deuce knows. During their patrols Deuce and Fade encounter Freaks with more organization and intelligence than the norm. When their warnings about this eerie Freak behavior are ignored or suppressed, Deuce begins to question the leadership of the enclave.
My Thoughts: Enclave is basically three parts. At first the focus is narrow. The story revolves around Deuce’s small sphere and all that is familiar to her. When Deuce begins to think beyond the small borders of the enclave, the spotlight expands. She discovers where her partner, Fade originally came from. The last part expands the world even further beyond that.
For the size of this book, a lot happens. I liked that the story manages to blend in action, a gritty world, and a budding friendship into the story, and I think this is what made the beginning of Enclave particularly strong for me. When Deuce’s narrative begins, we’re introduced to the daily life of a semi-primitive tribal culture. It has three basic roles (Hunter, Breeder, Builder), a leadership structure based on age (over twenty makes you an elder, as this is a very small group), and a painful initiation ritual into “adulthood” (cuts made on the arms that are seared closed by hot metal). Deuce knows only the limited scope of this enclave, which is in the Underground. Only after she becomes a Hunter and assigned a partner can she see what’s outside her home. It’s not clear what the year is or what has happened to make the world it is in Enclave, but there are enough hints to say that it is our world that has been hit by some apocalyptic event that has reduced the world to rubble and society into small tribes like the enclave, and created monsters like the Freaks.
Because Deuce is a Hunter, that brings plenty of action and the story goes at a fast clip. Deuce is eager to prove her mettle, but she is also learning about Fade and about her the Underground. The action adds drama to the story, but the plot moves along because of Deuce’s path of discovery. Fade isn’t very talkative but as time goes on Deuce begins to trust him, and she knows he doesn’t like the current leadership. Their relationship evolves through time and trials, but Fade keeps a lot close to his chest. What he does tell her, Deuce has trouble believing, but she begins to question. She debates the need for rules and leadership, against inhumane punishments to keep the enclave in line. A leadership that keeps tight control is particularly dangerous when there is important information being suppressed.
But before anything really happens in the enclave, the story changes gears. Fade and Deuce move on together, away from what Deuce is familiar. Deuce continues to learn about her world, and along the way other teen characters are introduced. The shift is a little abrupt for me and left some dangling threads. I think as a series it’s more interesting for Deuce and Fade to travel outside the enclave, but the way this story was presented, it felt like some set up was abandoned. As a result, the second half of the book felt like a restart. Again a new setting and new characters are introduced to us, but thankfully Fade and Deuce stay constant. On the other hand, with new characters introduced late in the story, I didn’t feel like there was much time to get to know them.
There’s a hint of a love triangle with Fade, Deuce, and one of the new characters as well, but it is an odd choice. One of the things I like about Aguirre’s writing is the darkness she brings into her stories. Sometimes this is in the form of dark heroes – people who have done unlikeable things in their pasts but who I still root for. In Enclave the darkness is primarily in the world building, but it’s also in Fade’s past and Deuce’s choices for self-preservation. However, in the potential love triangle, I found the third person VERY unlikeable and a better choice as a villain than a romantic interest. Depending on what happens with this character, it could either be a show stopper or a deal breaker in a later book. I have my fingers crossed.
Overall: My reaction is that I was entertained. Aguirre’s writing keeps me interested in what’s going on and there’s enough darkness in this story to add depth, but the concepts themselves feel familiar. The underground setting after a post-apocalyptic event, the humanoid creatures craving human flesh, and society broken down and ignorant of the past are familiar tropes. But this series has a lot of potential. I think the slowly evolving relationship between Deuce and Fade and their fighting partnership is what has me hooked. I also suspect that now that the world has been established, the characters will have more room to grow. I would actually want to read the second book, and there’s are a lot of other YA dystopian series I’ve started where I couldn’t say the same.