May 20, 2011

review: enclave

Enclave – Ann Aguirre


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.


Post-apocalyptic fiction is not my usual thing. I don’t like the depressing perspective of the world and what is left of its people. Usually characters are just counting the days until they die, with little to no hope of a future. Even if they do have hope, it is crushed quickly, or it lasts long enough to see the character die a sad, solitary death. Enclave surprised me.

The main character Deuce is a deft hand with daggers and a terrorizing force with a club. She trained her entire life to become a Huntress, a protector of the enclave she lives in, dubbed College, a village beneath the ruins of New York City.

The author’s world-building in Enclave is phenomenal. The enclave has strict rules and a power hierarchy. For me, I could believe that humanity might devolve into this dystopian culture, kept running by lies from the ones in power. Citizens of the enclave rarely live to their thirties. The eldest citizen is only twenty-five. Nearly everyone in College knows next to nothing about the lives humans used to lead. Items like wedding invitations are treasured by the Wordkeeper, the warden of knowledge in the underground city, and citizens found hoarding such treasures are exiled from the enclave. Those that leave are doomed to a life as prey for the Freaks, cannibalistic humanoids always looking for a fresh meal. The thought of going Topside is synonymous with suicide. The people of the enclave are kept underground by fear.

The characterization in the novel was done fairly well. Deuce is a likable character, even if she is naïve to begin with. Her partner Fade is an interesting character who originally hailed from Topside. He is both affectionate (a quality that shouldn’t exist in Hunters) and feral in battle. He is faithfully devoted to Deuce, as both a partner in battle and as a friend. Over the course of the novel, Deuce’s perspective changes, and she learns to accept the ugly truth of the place she has called home for her entire life. While the first part of the novel is devoted to Fade and Deuce, the second half introduces new characters that don’t seem to have much of a purpose. I think the story could have done without the additional characters, relying on the chemistry between Fade and Deuce to carry the story to its conclusion. The added characters slowed the action of the story in a sort of meandering way, causing the story to lose focus. While I imagine they were meant to add conflict and tension, they failed to do so. They merely got in the way.

The plot is okay. The first portion is devoted to Deuce’s life in the enclave as a Huntress and the ongoing battle against the freaks. The story then evolves into your basic plot-apocalyptic storyline: characters search for a safe-haven, protected from the threats of the world. The story was relatively predictable once I entered the second part of the novel.

All in all, it was a mostly interesting read. I began to lose interest somewhere after the halfway point, but I continued reading, hoping something would change to surprise me. It didn’t. The best part of the novel is the first bit. The rest, due to the additional characters and predictable plot, failed to impress. If I could judge them separately, I would give the first half four stars and the second half two. The story could have been so much better in my opinion.

Reading level: Young Adult
Format: Hardcover, 272 pages
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends (April 12, 2011)

Rating: ★★★☆☆

[Debut Author Challenge 2011]

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