February 5, 2015
Enclave by Ann Aguirre
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I've actually read this book before. But the reason I keep the vast majority of my books, and the reason bookcases are gradually taking over my house, is that I very much enjoy rereading books. Once I know what happens and the visceral excitement of page-turning ebbs, I can better appreciate exactly what the author is doing with her story. (This is also why I don't mind spoilers.) Plot, characterization, worldbuilding, pacing, dialogue--all things I notice on the initial read-through, to be sure, but things I can also follow more closely the second or third time around.
There are many elements of this book I grew fonder of during this reading, but there was also one horrid, problematic plot element I cannot believe the author let slip by. I'll get to that. First, the good: the worldbuilding and characterization. This is another of those post-apocalyptic science fiction dystopias I enjoy so much: society is destroyed by a virus that killed most people and turned others into cannibalistic mutants (not zombies, despite what some Goodreads reviewers assert--the Freaks/Eaters/Muties are alive, not dead), and a hundred years or more from now, small isolated pockets of non-infected humanity are all that's left. Including "enclaves" of people in the tunnels underneath New York City--tiny ragged bands on the edge, living short brutish lives (twenty-five is old in the protagonist Deuce's world), eating rats and mushrooms (one does wonder how they avoid scurvy and countless other diseases brought on by poor nutrition) and fighting roaming bands of Freaks in the abandoned subway tunnels.
Our hero Deuce is well done; at fifteen, she's lived long enough to earn a name (instead of "Girl" and a number) and a promotion to Huntress, which is what she has always wanted to be. (There are only three castes in the enclave--Builder, Breeder and Hunter.) The author impressively shows her growth from obedient, unquestioning rule-follower to exiled rebel, after she protects her friend accused of "hoarding" (keeping information from the group) and is turned out as a result. She and her partner/love interest, Fade, a Hunter who actually lived aboveground--"Topside"--with his father, leave the tunnels behind and ascend into the ruins of New York, both to find other living, non-Freakified people and to solve the mystery of why their world is the way it is.
Some reviews have suggested that the worldbuilding is vague. I don't think that's true at all; the reader must remember that throughout this book we are firmly in Deuce's head, and in the beginning she neither knows nor cares why things are as they are. All she wants is to be a Huntress, fight the Freaks, and survive. It's only later, as she learns to think on her own and realizes her enclave's Elders are misleading people at best and murdering people at worst, that she wants to find out what happened. We're following along with Deuce as she learns, and Aguirre is doing a masterful job of this, revealing the secrets of her world without infodumps.
There's one terrible plot element I cannot imagine the author leaving in. I'm sure for many people, it would be enough to stop reading the book altogether. It wasn't a deal-breaker for me, because I love Ann Aguirre; I have her entire Sirantha Jax/Corine Solomon series, and at this point in time, I'm willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. But to warn those who are sensitive to such things: after Fade and Deuce come out of the tunnels, they emerge in a world which is even more savage than their enclave existence. The New York ruins are inhabited by lawless, anarchic gangs, and one, the Wolves, captures our heroes. Deuce meets a girl about her age, Tegan, who has been kept as the Wolves' sex slave; she has been repeatedly gang-raped and bore two children who died. Deuce and Fade manage to get away, taking Tegan with them, and the gang's leader, Stalker, follows. There is a fight at the New York Public Library, where our Gang of Three has gone to find any information they can, between Our Gang and Stalker's, which is interrupted by a band of Freaks. After this free-for-all, since most of the Wolves have been killed, Stalker insists on accompanying Our Gang. Deuce and Fade permit this, over Tegan's objections. It's not stated outright, but it's a strong possibility Stalker was one of her rapists. And worse than this, Aguirre seems to set out to rehabilitate Stalker, turning him into another love interest for Deuce (although he clearly has his old rapist mentality, since he insists on pursuing and kissing her even after she clearly tells him no).
This is Not Cool. As I said, the rest of the story is strong enough that I'm willing to overlook it, for the moment. Other people may not be. I don't know why this particular plot thread even exists, as it's gratuitous and unnecessary. It just mars what would be a very good book, and for no reason as far as I can see. Nevertheless, our Gang of Three, now Gang of Four, continues on their journey north, and Deuce learns about sunshine and snow, and they eventually discover an entire city of survivors (old survivors at that! Forty-two! It's a shocking indication how far humanity has fallen, that forty-two is ancient), a city named Salvation.
The ending is rather abrupt, with a cliffhanger that could charitably be called "weak," and we understand Deuce's entire world has changed. The next book, Outpost, which I've already started, will presumably explore those changes.
Argh. I wish the Rehabilitated Rapist thing had been completely removed. This book would be so much better without it.
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