Saturday, August 4, 2012

Review: Enclave by Ann Aguirre

Title: Enclave
Author: Ann Aguirre
Series: Razorland #1
Pages: 262
Publisher: Fiewel & Friends
Date Published: April 12, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Dystopian
Source: Part of Ruby Read's Spring Book Exchange!

In Deuce’s world, people earn the right to a name only if they survive their first fifteen years. By that point, each unnamed ‘brat’ has trained into one of three groups–Breeders, Builders, or Hunters, identifiable by the number of scars they bear on their arms. Deuce has wanted to be a Huntress for as long as she can remember.

My Review:
Starting out, I couldn't help but be influenced by Enclave's cover. Just look at it! The blades, the metallics...this is NOT your cheesy YA cover. You immediately get the sense of danger, the threat towards life, and the gritty hoplessness that Dystopian novels strive to encompass. I was really excited...until I looked at the back of the book and saw the reccomendations on it...Not going to lie, I get irritated when I see reccomendations for dystopian novels that say "for fans of the Hunger Games". It's like when Twilight became popular and then every paranormal YA book was for "fans of the Twilight Series". When people say something so much that it loses it's meaning, you can't help but approach a series with a certain amount of apprehension, particularly when the last "Just Like The Hunger Games!" books fell flat for you (Ahem...Drought, Water Wars, etc.) Like many of it's companions, Enclave lacks the OOMPH and the general wow factor that the Hunger Games has, but unlike those I mentioned before it still has enough strenght and originality to stand on it's own. However, I'm not sure how to express my feelings for it because though the writing and world building were pretty great, I had a lot of issues with it. 

I think to really understand what I loved/didn't love about Enclave you have to understand what makes a dystopian novel good, great, or not-so-hot. One of the biggest things that I look for when cracking a dystopian, apocalyptic, etc. novel is that this world (whether it is our future, another race's future, or some unknown date and place) is believable. Yet it's terribly common for Dystopian books to revolve around that whole "Shock and Awe" mentality, with each book trying to one-up the next with trauma, abuse, and just plain cruelty. Horribly traumatic things are popular in fiction and movies lately (Saw anyone?) but for me to enjoy something for reasons other than it's gross-out factor, I need to understand the WHY, the HOW and the WHEN. The author has to create for me a world so believable that I can envision it as easily as I can our own. In order to gain that sense of realism, the author has to explain to me a lot more about their setting/time/characters than authors of other genres. So the government took over? Why? What happened? Could I see this happening tomorrow? If the answers to these and other questions are explained well, then I usually eat a book right up. If they aren' hovers pretty dang close to my "Did Not Finish" pile. 

So how does Enclave stand up? Well...pretty decently despite a lot of my usual questions going unanswered. What saved Enclave was the logic that these people really wouldn't have any idea about what happened to cause their world to go to hell. They seem to have de-evolved back into a more primitive and violent type of human (And that's not even beginning to touch on the Freaks!)and they have learned to survive in pockets of humanity that are so different, they might as well be separate species. I enjoyed that each Enclave had different laws, different beliefs...sometimes even different genetic qualities. Freaks for example are some kind of bizarre combination of canibalistic zombies and mutants. They seem to be a completely separate race from all of the types of humanity that still exist, and they are the main antagonists to the people living in this world. You can see the science and evolution playing a part,especially between the surface dwellers and cave dwellers...(though logically this would have to have taken at least a few centuries before any type of evolution happened). The sheer Survival of the Fittest mentality employed by basically every character in the book was really interesting and helped give the book a hardened and gritty feel to it. That however, was where believability stopped and my own personal issues with the society/characters/book took over.

I wasn't a big fan of how Deuce's enclave ran things. To me, it felt a little too contrived and forced into being a brutal dystopian-type community instead of just creating a civilization that was bound by hardship and letting them develop from there. Deuce's Enclave SAYS that they run things with a purely practical nature...but there was a lot of completely impractical aspects to their lives that made no sense in the context of their own civilization. For example, there was no logical explaination why this community didn't name it's young until age 15...calling every single kid living there "brat" must have caused more troubles than it solved. You would have kids running around with no accountability because they could just say the other brat over there did it. in a society this harsh, I feel like the kids would have been utilized to do some kind of job before the age of 15. If life is so hard that people tend to die in their 20's, don't you think people would want to experience more of it in the first 15 years of life?

Now for one of the most baffling things that I found with this story...the love interests and relationships that developed between characters. Even though Deuce and Fade (Deuce's hunter mentor and partner) were kind of a cliched YA romace, I think I could have grown to like them. They work together for 8+ hours of the day and that creates a certain intimacy that could understandably lead to a romace (just ask all those bosses and secretaries that have gotten it on over the Seeing and experiencing the dangers of their training and then occupation forced them to face was scary, and turned them into really tough, kick-ass kind of protagonists that you could grow to like. Deuce has a sense of humanity despite having the Enclave elders try to stamp it out of her, and since Fade grew up elsewhere he is definitely different than the cold uncaring elders. Though both of them could break you with a single punch or knife to the right area, they also have this underlying...caring...for human life that makes you identify with them more than other characters. I would have been perfectly content to see the two grow together more and more as they struggle through the caves, then the surface world. But NO...there just HAS to be a freaking love triangle...actually a freaking quad-rangle. The pair meet up with Stalker(no...I'm not kidding...that is his actual name...) and Tegan. Stalker is the leader of a gang of rapists that have been regularly abusing Tegan for years, and he kidnaps Deuce and intends to do the same to her. Deuce of course escapes, and manages to take Tegan with her but somehow Stalker becomes involved in the group. So Deuce is traveling with the guy who kidnapped her...and periodically raped her friend...and everyone is okay with this. THEN to get even worse...she starts having feelings for Stalker...what the EFF?? I get the bad boy thing...but a rapist, kidnapping, gang-banger who kills for fun, has raped mulitple women, and had pretty much caused the majority of the problems for Deuce and Fade once they got to the surface? I just can't deal with it...I call bullshit and demand a re-write. 
I struggled with rating Enclave. Sometimes the story can be well written, have some strong world building, and encompass lots of different aspects to their characters that have you really appreciating the depth and demensionality that they posess. But at the same time...something was missing. There were a few aspects here and there that had me rolling my eyes, or sighing in frustration, or even experiencing outright dislike for the characters (not the least being the odd love Triangle/Square we were forced to endure) and the entire time I was reading I felt like I wasn't connecting the way that I wanted to. I was appalled and irritated by the unnessicary love quadrangle and thought that Stalker was too far gone to actually like. I feel like a lot of people will disagree with the rating, but I just couldn't justify giving anything higher. This was good but not great...had some fun moments,but nothing too amazing. Even the characters were cool, but you don't really FEEL anything for them at the end of the day. I'm going to give the book a 3/5 Keys because it was well written and definitely will have appeal for the darker, angsty, dystopian-loving readers. It just wasn't the best fit for me. 

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