Author: Ann Aguirre

Publication: 2011, Feiwel and Friends

Pages: 272

Overall Rating:  bth_4-star-rating_zps38e772a0[1]                      

Rating for Action: bth_3-star-rating_zps73bdba73[1]

Quantity of Action: bth_3-star-rating_zps73bdba73[1]

Age Category: 13+

Brief Summary:  Deuce has grown up in an underground enclave located in the subway tunnels beneath New York City.  Her world is one of darkness and fear, where a person who makes it to the age of 25 is considered ancient.  She’s been raised as a huntress, trained in combat to gather food for her people and protect them against the Freaks – mutated creatures who roam the tunnels attacking anyone, or anything, that moves and devouring them.  The enclave exists by forcing everyone to adhere to a strict set of rules, rules which Deuce has been brought up to believe in.  But when she becomes a huntress, she finds herself paired with Fade – an outsider, and a kid who rarely follows the rules.  Together, they discover that the Freaks are growing more intelligent and aggressive.  But the elders of their enclave refuse to listen, and all too soon Deuce and Fade find themselves banished – forced to head topside and fight for survival in a world gone mad.

Age of Main Character: 15 (more or less.  I don’t think she really knows her exact age)

What I Liked the Most: This is a wonderfully imaginative book, and it’s clear that Aguirre put a lot of thought into how people really might live in the aftermath of an apocalypse.  She’s created numerous very distinct societies that show some of the different ways survivors might react and live, from the tightly organized underground enclaves to violent youth gangs and organized settlements deep in the wilderness.  Each one is utterly different and utterly real.

The early part of the book that takes place down in the tunnels is full of claustrophobic tension.  When Deuce and Fade go on patrol, they travel in pitch darkness down narrow subway tunnels, navigating by a combination of the faintest of light, hearing, touch, and smell.  The Freaks are everywhere, and you never know when they’re going to jump out and attack.  The patrols are like a marathon of terror, and when they’re over it’s back to the marginal safety of the enclave, with its small spaces, rigid rules, and constant intrigue.  I loved the underground world Aguirre created here – like a tiny islands of hope floating in a claustrophobic sea of darkness and blood.

Duece herself is a fascinating character – a tough, battle hardened huntress who is proud of the scars she carries on her arms, and yet is overcome by feelings of sorrow and compassion for the world around her.  She’s been raised to believe that only the strong survive, but as one of the strong she can’t bring herself to abandon all those who look to her for help.  Aguirre has done an amazing job or burrowing inside Deuce’s head and bringing her to life, contradictions and all.

What I Liked the Least: This might seem like a minor issue, but the enclave where Duece grew up sounded like a small place.  We’re never told how many people live there, but Aguirre often talks about what careful measures the elders took to limit the population, and everything about the enclave made it sound pretty tiny.  And yet, there were many times throughout the early part of the book where Duece would encounter someone in the enclave and not really know their name or not be entirely sure who they were.  She grew up in the enclave, and unlike someone growing up in a small town today it really was her entire world.  There wasn’t even TV or the internet for distractions.  She should know everyone there.  Even if she’s never really talked with them, she should know their name and who they are.  Again, this was a minor point, but it happened often enough that it really stuck out.

How Good was the Action?  It was okay.  What this book really has going for it is tension and some great atmosphere. A few of the early fights had some fairly decent blow-by-blow detail, and what they lacked in detail was more than made up for by the tense atmosphere of battling a group of blood-thirsty freaks in the pitch black of the tunnels.  But once they get above ground and that tension slipped away the fights and chases become far less engaging.  There was little or no blow-by-blow action and most of the fights were narrated in fairly vague detail and were over far faster than they should have been.

How Engaging was the Story? Aguirre has done an amazing job of creating an intensely realistic post-apocalyptic environment, full of dark tension and gritty detail.  That alone would have been enough to hold my attention from page one to the very end of the book, but this book isn’t just about the setting.  Aguirre has also crafted a deeply engaging main character.  Deuce sucked me into her world from the very start, and even when she went above ground – and lost the natural tension that came with living in the tunnels – her drive to survive and save the ones she loves was enough to keep me glued to the page.

Overall Assessment: Enclave is like a heaping big serving of darkness, tension, and gore.  It’s a window into a terrifying apocalyptic future where roving gangs rule the streets, and life is brutal and all too short.  While the action was often underwhelming, this remains a gritty, violent book that should appeal to fans of dystopian fiction and dark, atmospheric thrillers.

Profanity: Not really

Sex: The characters kiss, and there are various references to ‘breeding’ and to women topside being forced to serve as ‘breeders’, but it never gets anywhere close to graphic.

Violence: Yes.  There is blood and torture.  There are numerous references to people being eaten by Freaks.  People get stabbed, clawed, and beaten.

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