Enclave (Book 1 in the Razorland trilogy)
By: Ann Aquirre
Published: April 12, 2011
Company: Square Fish
Back with another dystopian young adult series, but Ann Aquirre’s Razorland trilogy stands all on its own. Though the first book, Enclave, takes place in the world as readers know, it has clearly fallen apart. However, how this has happened is never fully explained; the most we are given is that the world fell during a second holocaust- the era in which our heroine Deuce is born.
In Deuce’s underground world, the oldest person has only seen the age of 25. As such, her enclave – a sparsely populated community located in an abandoned section of the New York underground controlled by a council of elders – is highly organized, regimented and controlled by necessity. Assuming you do not die of illness or infection by the time you reach 15, you are trained into one of three groups- Breeders, Builders, or Hunters. Before this point, you are called Girl or Boy, followed by a number. Collectively, these individuals are called Brats. On your 15th year, you are invited to a ceremony in which you receive (symbolic) cuts on your arm, and depending on how many you can handle, you will be placed into one of these groups. It is also during this ceremony you receive your name. Your name is selected by whatever your blood touches that fell from your cuts. In Deuce’s case, her blood landed on a 2 of Spades and received 6 cuts on her arm, marking her as a Huntress, a position she has wanted to become for as long as she could remember.
In her world, Hunters not only gather food for the enclave but protect it from monstrous creatures known as Freaks. Hunters set up traps to gather food and kill Freaks, or even other people if ordered to by one’s superiors. If you are at all familiar with Firefly, Freaks are this world’s Reavers. If not, Freaks are this world’s zombies. As the book and trilogy progresses, however, Freaks become scarier and more deadly than either of these. If zombies are not your thing, do not worry. They are not the major focus of this trilogy.
As a reader, it may be frightening to think of what we would consider children going out to fetch food and kill. However, in this society death is a constant companion as there is a limited access to medicine and treatment and the person who does deliver such is not well trained, so often many people will die from his ‘treatments’ rather than survive. Any sense of innocence or naïveté is quickly striped from these individuals as they live in a damp, small, cold, harsh world. Everything one does after the age of 15 is done for the survival of the colony and is heavily monitored by the enclave elders: kissing, sex, education/information, approved/unapproved pregnancies, what items one is allowed to have, where one lives, etc. Even Deuce expresses early on that she is unaccustomed to signs of physical affection, such as kisses or hugs, since being a Hunter would not require experience in such area. Even the idea of expressing compassion during the act of sex puzzles her as such acts are not required to produce an offspring.
Moreover, stepping outside the rules often results in one of two options: death or exile from the enclave to Topside (the word for the surface world); the latter is seen as little better then death, though, as it requires getting past the Freaks to find a way to Topside – such knowledge is not widely known – and the conditions and reality of Topside are not even known. What pieces of information individuals do know about Topside are provided by the elders, but the topic is rarely discussed. The elders describe it more as a toxic wasteland, devoid of life, though this could simply be a tool of control over the enclave inhabitants through fear.
Still, though but through all this control over the enclave and the shortened life expectancy, the system seems to have created a society free of gender imbalance. Any person can be a Builder, or Hunter, as long as they have the skill and determination to do so. One still has the option of becoming a Breeder, however it seems the elders do have some control on who is a Breeder (to control population growth) based on the traits an individual has. However even this option is not limited based on one’s sex. At least in Hunter social structure, all one needs to be able to gain a high position is skill and experience, the ability to follow orders, and good health. Though I suspect having good connections with your superiors and elders would help in this, never does one seem to be limited to what tasks they can or cannot do based on their sex. Instead you are limited based on your role within the enclave. There is no “glass ceiling” for men and women in this society because of your sex. We also see higher officials being called “sir” whether they were male or female.
As Deuce later explores the Topside, she meets a girl who has been poorly treated while pregnant by the group she was kidnapped by, and there are overtones of her pregnancies resulting from rapes. Deuce is horrified by this discovery because even in her world, Breeders are treated with respect and nobody would be allowed to force themselves upon a Breeder. Consent is key in her world. If someone is caught committing such an act, this would result in death for the attacker, while the enclave would take care of the victim. It can also be assumed that if an act is experienced by a non-Breeder, the same punishment would be dealt to the attacker.
This story is filled with gray characters and moments where Deuce, and the reader, must question societal values, laws, and culture, both ones they are experiencing for the first time and those they have been raised in. I really enjoy this grittier form of reality Aquirre has presented us with. While it causes us to, at first, question what is happening to Deuce’s world (both old and new), it slowly causes us to question our own world and what’s happening around us. There are few easy questions raised for the reader and Deuce that have equally easy answers.
I find Deuce’s character to be empowering because she is, as a result of her determination and training from her enclave, a skilled fighter and warrior. She is knowledgeable about different weapons and hand-to-hand combat techniques. That is not to say she is unbeatable or unmatched in combat, as Fade (her love interest and Hunter partner) and other individuals are shown to be formidable opponents as well. However Deuce is someone who can take care of herself and others in a fight. She is also willing and open to sharing her knowledge with others, especially those who are unable to defend themselves. This shows me that she believes in empowering people with knowledge and skills so that they might better their own lives and those around them, something that I can relate to.
I also enjoyed Deuce’s journey of self-discovery through her relationship with Fade. Before leaving the enclave, she sees her identity through the lens of being a good Huntress. As her relationship with Fade progresses, she finds herself conflicted with what she wants (kissing, holding hands, hugging, etc) and what it means to be a Huntress. It’s an internal struggle that we, the readers, are privy to as the story is told through her perspective. While we do not have a Hunter role in our society, women* frequently do struggle with identity when presented with a relationship, both as young teenagers and as older women, especially if this relationship falls outside the societal norms.
Something I am critical of, though, is the settlement of Jengu and his people, as it seems to have been used as a narrative device so that Deuce and Fade would have a safe place to rest from the Freaks and have someone to ask for directions when fleeing to Topside. From the brief encounters we have with it, it is clear it has a different social order and structure then that of Deuce’s enclave and even the language is different that than Deuce’s, though it is difficult to tell if it is different because he is speaking in her language rather than his own or if his is simply a different style. Their differences would have made for an interesting comparison to Deuce’s enclave had there been more interactions with them shown in the story.
I did however find the ending of the novel very dissatisfying as it simply ends with Deuce and her party to being brought into a human settlement called Salvation (think mid-western town) and cared for. After all the struggling and surviving the characters (and readers) deal with getting to this point, we are simply left with them arriving safely in a new place with their wounds being cared for. While it does wrap up the story, it does not feel very satisfying and had Outpost not been published, I would have been very frustrated with my reading experience. I wonder if this sudden ending is a result of the publishing company wanting her to break up her story into three books (a la Lord of the Rings) and deciding that this point would be where the book ends. The end feels like a sudden, unnatural stop and I would have liked it if the ending had been handled better.
Despite the darker and grittier tones of this story and the dissatisfying ending, I really enjoyed it. Again it was something I could not put down until it was finished, and when it was, I moved on to the second novel of the trilogy: Outpost. From what I have seen in the brief reviews of the book, people are likening it to The Hunger Games series. While I cannot comment on this, as I have not read the series or watched the movie, I do believe this would be suited to a young female teenager audience, but also enjoyable for an older audience as well. I am eagerly awaiting the release of the final book Horde and hoping that we get many answers: how the Freaks came to be and what caused their change in behaviour.
So how did you like the book? Do you agree with me? Disagree? Saw something different that I might have missed? Leave a comment below, I’d love to hear from you!!
*Sorry men, not trying to exclude you in this but not sure how you feel about the matter and I don’t want to speak on behalf of you.