Author: Ann Aguirre

Publication: 2013, Square Fish

Pages: 352

Overall Rating: bth_45_zps06f87659[1]

Rating for Action: bth_2-star-rating-1_zps4cdc0d23[1]

Quantity of Action:bth_2-star-rating-1_zps4cdc0d23[1]

Age Category: 13+

Brief Summary: Deuce and her friends – Fade, Stalker, and Tegan – are living in the settlement of Salvation. The solid walls there make the villagers feel safe, and there’s more food than Deuce has ever seen. But comfortable as life may be, Deuce is an outsider in Salvation, a community where men and women are expected to live according to carefully prescribed role, and where there’s no room for a female huntress.   Still, she manages to work her way into the summer patrols – a group of guards who watch over the planters as they leave the safety of the city to tend their crops. And as the Freak danger in the area grows, she leads the way in establishing an outpost to protect those crops during the growing season. Only these Freaks are different – smart, cunning, organized.   And they are intent on destroying Salvation.

Age of Main Character: 15

What I Liked the Most: Aguirre has done a compelling job building on the traditional notion of a zombie to create something new. Freaks have the same shambling, rotten, meat craving body of a zombie. But they’re more than that – a fact we only begin to realize as the book progresses. Their intelligence and cunning, their view of humanity as an actual enemy and not just a source of food, the very notion of freak babies (yes, actual babies) takes the established zombie story and gives it a unique twist.

The same is true of Salvation. We’ve already seen the underground enclaves and the world of the gangs – and we know how terrifying such places can be. Now we get to see the world of the settlement – a small remnant of humanity living out in the wilds. And while that community is beautiful in comparison to what Deuce has known before, Aguirre makes sure to keep it more complex than that. She won’t let us forget that for all the fear, dirt, and starvation that went with life in the Enclaves, it also provided a Deuce with a real role, with responsibilities and a simple way of life that made far more sense to her than anything she’s found above ground. That complexity adds to the story and makes Deuce’s struggle all the more poignant.

What I Liked the Least: There are a number of flashbacks woven into the early part of the story, reminding us of events from the first book. I didn’t mind the flashbacks, and in fact appreciated the reminders, but they’re told in the same tense as the rest of the book and without relatively few cues to make it clear when each one starts and ends. I’d often have to read a few sentences before realizing we were in another flashback, and the return to present time could be just as confusing.

That’s a minor issue, however. My real problem with the book – and this problem is entirely one of perspective – was that it was too heavy on the romance. Sure, there were strong romantic elements to Enclave, the first book in the series. But they didn’t come into play until later in the book and were well balanced by Deuce’s constant fight for survival. In Outpost, her romantic sparring with Fade and Stalker and her morose emotions threatened to take over the story. If that’s what you’re looking for – a dystopian romance with a mild serving of action to spice things up – then the story might be just about perfect. But while I enjoy a good romantic comedy, and can find real pleasure in a sprinkling of romance, here it was simply too all-encompassing for my tastes.

How Good was the Action? In Enclave, the first part of the book was filled with action scenes that took most of their power from the tension that comes with battling hordes of freaks in a dark, cramped underground environment. Once Deuce and Fade made their way above ground, that unique element of tension disappeared and the action scenes lost a lot of their power. They became far too short, with little to no blow blow-by-blow detail, focusing almost entirely on Deuce’s emotional reaction to the battle. That continues in Outpost. There are a couple of fairly tense moments – sneaking into a freak encampment, a pitched battle at the gates to town – and there are a fair number of fights with the freaks, but from an action perspective they were all rather underwhelming.

How Engaging was the Story? Even though the romantic elements of the story came off as a little too all-encompassing for my taste, I still enjoyed the story. Aguirre has created a complex set of characters, and the town of Salvation, with its deeply ingrained beliefs regarding the roles of women, adds a powerful layer of uncertainty to Deuce’s struggle to carve out a new life herself. And I liked how Aguirre gives Deuce her first taste of a real family – a mother and father who love her, a commander who sees her as the daughter he never had – because those little touches of home life make her struggle to defend the town all the more compelling.

Overall Assessment: A dark and complex post-apocalyptic tale, full of tension and fear. It’s an intriguing story with a powerful cast of characters. But the romantic elements are somewhat all-pervasive. If you’re looking for a good romance with a sprinkling of fear and action this would be an excellent choice. But if you’re in the mood for an action-filled post-apocalyptic tale with just a touch of romance, best look elsewhere.

Profanity: None

Sex: Some kissing – in fact, quite a bit of kissing.

Violence: Some. The battles have their violent moments, but most of the descriptions are too brief to hit home. There are, however, some fairly gruesome descriptions of freak bodies, freaks eating raw meat, and one brief description of a fallen guard who was field dressed and deboned by the freaks – carried home for food.

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