Tuesday, 19 April 2011

‘Enclave’ – Ann Aguirre (Feiwel & Friends)

You would have thought that the merest mention of a fictional apocalypse would have people staying away from the book in question and looking to read something nicer instead; something that has ponies in it maybe. It’s one of life’s strange things then that we can’t seem to get enough of the stuff. If there’s an apocalypse going on in a book somewhere then it’s more likely to be picked up than passed over. I’m as guilty as the next man here with more than a few zombie books sat on the shelf.
Why the fascination with the apocalypse? Are we all looking to pick up tips on how to survive when it all kicks off? Are we looking for the thrill of experiencing the collapse of civilisation without actually being in the middle of it all? Or are we just so overloaded with all the bad stuff happening in the world that we’ve all become extremely morbid and are looking for safe ways to reconcile ourselves with our own mortality? There’s probably a little bit of all three going on there with added extras that vary from person to person.
I’ve never read of Ann Aguirre’s books until now but I’m told (by Amazon) that she is well known for her paranormal romances; this may be why I’ve never tried her work... ‘Enclave’ is Aguirre’s first foray into the realms of the ‘post apocalyptic’ (for young adults) and it’s worth a look if you’ve been missing your daily dose of civilisation collapsing...

Who knows what lies above the tunnels and passageways surrounding the ‘College’ enclave? And who knows what drove people to live down there in the darkness? Deuce certainly doesn’t, she has spent her whole life in these tunnels and, at sixteen, is a huntress tasked with finding food for her people and defending the enclave against the attacks of the mutated ‘Freaks’. When the Freaks start to show signs of cunning and strategy Deuce’s already hard life becomes a lot more difficult, especially when the elders of the enclave refuse to believe her. Life in the enclave is governed by strict rules and any deviation from these is punished harshly. It would appear that blind adherence to these rules could spell disaster for the enclave and everything that Deuce does to try and help only serves to push her further away. Deuce is soon looking at the worst punishment the elders can offer but even she could never imagine that it will take both her and her hunting partner topside...

‘Enclave’ isn’t without its issues but still remains a book that I tore through over the course of an evening and a commute to work the next day. On occasion ‘Enclave’ is a little lightweight for my tastes but was a lot of fun and a book that I reckon could appeal to adult readers as much as it would to the Young Adult audience that it targets.

‘Enclave’ weighs in at a ‘slight’ two hundred and sixty two pages and much of this is down to Aguirre stripping things right down and telling the story purely as it is without too much embellishment (if any at all). Not only does this approach propel the plot forward at great speed (at least to begin with, the plot meanders when Deuce and her friends don’t have a specific aim in mind towards the end of the book and these bits dragged) but it also proves to be a great way of giving the reader an idea of just how dangerous and spartan life underground can be. There is no time to flesh things out as that time could literally be the difference between life and death for one of the members of the enclave. Danger can spring from the shadows at any time and Aguirre doesn’t shy away from showing the grim and bloody consequences of this. I loved that approach and particularly how it was reflected in the attitude of the main character Deuce.

Deuce is focussed solely on fulfilling her role in the enclave, no matter what, and as she begins to find out more about what goes on behind the scenes (with the elders) her character is forced to react and develop accordingly. While I liked the outcome of this, the relative brevity of the novel itself means that a few corners are cut and the plot feels a little shallow as a result. A lot of what we have to go on are Deuce’s ideas and theories (as well as a brief revelation from her partner Fade) about how the elders maintain their power and there isn’t enough time to see if these are real or merely fanciful ideas on the part of Deuce. You could make an educated guess and probably get it right but it all felt a little too uncertain for me and not enough to hang a plot from. I won’t give away too much about the inevitable love triangle (you could see it coming) but while I wondered if it detracted from the impact of the apocalypse I did like the way that it was left unresolved at the end. I don’t know if there’s another book planned here but leaving things hanging like that made it feel a little more real somehow.

Aguirre has clearly done her research into just what an apocalypse entails, the aftermath as much as what had happened before. The landscape looks just like you would expect but it’s clear that a lot of thought has gone into what you could still reasonably expect to find in an abandoned store or salvage for use. Apocalyptic fiction cannot get away from being speculative at its heart but Aguirre’s apocalypse certainly has an edge of realism that really works to the book’s benefit.

Issues with structure got in the way of a smooth read and eventually stopped ‘Enclave’ from being the excellent book that it initially promised to be. There is a lot to recommend the book though; a fast paced adventure set against a sobering backdrop with a lead character that I was rooting for the whole way.

Eight and a Half out of Ten


Susan said...

I reviewed this one today, too. It's definitely not my favorite post-apocalyptic YA book, but it's not a bad read either. The tone definitely echoes the grim world Aguirre sets up, which does make for a nice (if depressing) effect. There are definitely issues with plot and such, but I still enjoyed this one. And yes, according to Aguirre's website, there is a sequel in the works.

Thanks for the review!

Mardel said...

Ann Aguirre can write a good story. Enclave is Young adult - I think her first, so maybe that's why it seemed lightweight at times. She can write gritty though. :) I haven't yet tried her ya, but I've read two of her other series, one a sci fi = Sirantha Jax, and the other paranormal romance. You might like the Sirantha Jax series - they're pretty good.

I enjoyed your review of 'Enclave'. I was waiting to see how others enjoyed Enclave before buying it myself.

Anonymous said...

Just read it and reviewed it. Pretty entertaining story, though nothing really new. You're too right - what is it about our obsession with this dark grimy zombie-filled world. Books about ponies just don't seal the deal.