Publisher: Macmillan, 2011
Genre: Science Fiction
Sub-genre: Dystopian, YA
Rating: 3 1/2 pints of blood
I'm honestly not sure how I feel about the cover art. Certainly it's eye-catching, all shiny and embossed, and the cold and creepy feel of it evokes a mood. I can't quite decide whether the mood is one that fits the book or not. Then again, this is a story that makes some drastic changes near the halfway point, so it would be difficult to create a cover that would feel appropriate for the book as a whole.
Like the others that came before her, when Girl15 grows old enough, she is assigned a name and given a place to contribute to the society she lives in. She's trained all her life to be a Hunter, one of the fighters that protect the society from the ever-hungry Freaks, and is proud to join their ranks as Deuce. She's partnered with Fade, an outcast within the enclave who none of the others quite trusts, but who quickly proves himself valuable when it comes to fighting at least.
Once Deuce begins to take on duties as an adult and see things beyond the confines of the enclave, she starts to question the rules set in place by the Elders. She's always believed those rules keep them safe, but some of the things she's seen aren't adding up, and some of Fade's belligerance towards their leaders is starting to make a whole lot more sense. To make matters worse, the Freaks seem to be evolving into something stronger and smarter than they were before, making themselves more of a threat than they've ever been. The Elders don't want to listen to what Deuce and Fade have discovered, though, and soon Deuce finds herself at odds with the very people she's trying to protect.
Let's get one thing straight right off the bat: this is a grim, dark book, to the point where it could easily be a dealbreaker for some readers. In one of the societies presented, women exist to bear children, often by force, and one character survived being victimized this way repeatedly, although none of the other characters spare much sympathy for her. There's even a bit of victim blaming (ie: "she should have fought harder"), although this is still early in Deuce's character arc, an arc that clearly demonstrates her learning there are many different types of strength and that empathy isn't necessarily a weakness. Personally, the jury's still out for me as to how I feel about all this, and I'll have to see how it's handled in books two and three, but there will be readers for whom this will leave a bad enough taste to justify giving up, and it's hard to fault them for that.
The tribal society Deuce grew up in is a fascinating place, detailed and nuanced, and I was actually disappointed when the second half of the book draws away from that to explore other parts of the world. It's not that the other parts were disinteresting, but they didn't have the same vivid richness that went into the portrayal of the enclave.
Deuce herself is a wonderful character. She's flawed in many ways, but there's no fear of finding a passive heroine here. Not only is she an accomplished fighter who holds her own in several fight scenes with the odds stacked against her, but she's driven, determined, and willing to uphold her own sense of justice even when she knows the consequences will be dire. She's not fearless but is willing to push through her fear to do what needs to be done, and she's willing to accept when she's made a mistake. I very much appreciated that not only is she not a delicately wilting YA heroine, but she hasn't fallen into the "strong female character" trap, where an ability to fight is more important than any personality.
The book takes place after an unspecified world-ending apocalypse. There are implications that a disease wiped out most of the population, possibly one related to the Freaks (which are essentially zombies, although they don't seem to infect people, just kill them and eat them). Enough time has passed that nobody seems to know much about the time before or what caused the apocalypse, but there are enough clues to build up the mystery that I'm looking forward to discovering the answers in the next volume.
I'll wrap up this review with a warning: this is by no means a standalone novel. It's not a story in itself, but is very much the first part of a larger story. There is, in fact, no climax in Enclave, just a constant build of discovery, mystery, and character growth (at least for Deuce), and the book doesn't really end. It stops instead, giving the reader a chance to take a breath before moving on to the next book to figure out where the plot will take them next.
Enclave is available in trade paperback or as an e-book.