February 15, 2015

Review: Outpost

Outpost by Ann Aguirre

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I finished this book, I breathed a sigh of relief. It's a much better book than Enclave, and for the most part it deals with the problems I had with the first book in the trilogy. (Review here.)

This is a slower, more thoughtful, contemplative book, which is exactly what it needs to be. Deuce's world has been left behind, she's been thrown into an utterly alien environment, and she must figure out how to cope. The town of Salvation has rigid gender roles and views, and considers anyone under sixteen to be a child rather than an adult. Needles to say, Deuce, the fifteen-year-old Huntress who has been trained to think for/take care of herself, fits in about as well as you might expect. One of the themes of this story is being true to yourself and not apologizing for who you are, and I greatly admire Deuce's sense of loyalty and responsibility. She has been brought up to protect others, and that is what she is going to do, no matter who disapproves.

That's not to say there isn't a lot of action in this book. There is. It just occurs in short, measured bursts, instead of the slam-bang rocket ride that was Enclave's entire narrative. Deuce does a lot of hand-to-hand fighting, and is not afraid to go up against any man; she knows that even if she is not quite as strong, her mind and skills are greater. But in this book she learns the value of her emotions, as she comes to care for the family she never had. She also settles things with her estranged love interest, Fade, by the simple expedient of having an adult conversation (and reminding him that he must talk to her, as well). (Although that character revelation falls a bit by the wayside in the latter third of the book, after Deuce rescues Fade from the huge Freak encampment. Freaks are the villains of this post-apocalyptic world, where nearly all of humanity has been killed by a virus, and the majority of the survivors turned into mutants. Deuce brings Fade out of the camp, but he is obviously traumatized. She tries to give him space to heal, but unfortunately he falls prey to the I'm-no-good-for-you-now cliche and pushes her away. Hopefully the third book will resolve this.) Deuce also builds relationships with many people in Salvation, and learns how to live in a slightly more civilized society than the one she was born in. Although Salvation has its flaws, as we come to find out.

Now. The character of Stalker was my big Red Flag in the first book, as I felt the author was turning him into the Rehabilitated Rapist. In this book, to my surprise, Ann Aguirre addresses those concerns, for the most part. Stalker is still too pushy for my taste, and seems not to understand the meaning of the word "no" (although he does say that he wants Deuce to choose him for himself, not because Fade isn't there anymore). However, he does come to realize that the way he acted, as much as he may have thought it a necessity at the time, was not the right thing to do, and he goes to Tegan (Deuce's friend and the former sex slave of Stalker's gang, the Wolves) and apologizes to her.

Whether or not the reader can believe in, and accept, this apology is an entirely personal thing. I think, given the storyline, it worked. (As Deuce says, she has also done things she's not proud of, including killing a man at the age of twelve as he begged for his life.) Of course, this is in the context of a brutal post-apocalyptic world, where civilization has entirely broken down. The characters are trying to navigate this world and find their place in it (and not incidentally trying to survive) and they're going to screw up.

The action picks up in the last third of the book, ending with Salvation surrounded by mutants. The tension generated by Deuce's refusal to conform to Salvation's expected gender roles boils over, resulting in some of the people in the town coming after her, in an eerie future reenactment of the Salem witch hunts. The town's leader breaks the stalemate by sending Deuce (and Stalker, Fade and Tegan, who join her) on a desperate mission to nearby towns for reinforcements. ("Nearby" meaning, in this future, several days' journey on foot--at least the author didn't resort to the horrid cliche of motorized vehicles still working in a post-apocalyptic society.) The book ends on a far more effective cliffhanger than Enclave, as Deuce and her companions leave Salvation by way of a secret tunnel, evade the horde of Freaks, and set out to find help.

This book definitely benefited from its slower pace and concentrating on the characters. Now, from what it sounds like, the action is going to pick up again. The third book in the series, Horde, awaits me.

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