As I said before (in this post Book Club) after reading The Razorland Trilogy I was inspired to start a “Book Club” series on my blog, where I’d review books and you guys could provide your input in the comments section and we could hopefully start a dialogue, or at the very least, you guys can enjoy reading the review and possibly even go out and purchase your own copy of the book in question. The first book I actually reviewed on this blog was The Long Walk by Stephen King (reviewed – here). Now, on to my review of The Razorland Trilogy (Enclave, Outpost, Horde) by Anne Aguire.
The story takes place in the future. A long time ago, something horrible had happened above-ground, forcing people to live below-ground, in enclaves. We are introduced to a group of survivors, a community of sorts, who live in such a place. Their living conditions and their chance of survival is so terrible that they aren’t even given a name before they reach the age of fifteen. Until then, their names are their gender and and an exclusive number (for example, Girl15) or collectively referred to as “brats”. Nobody lives to see forty. In fact the oldest person living in the enclave with a withered face and shaky hands is only twenty-five years old. They do have a “healer” whose crackpot ways does more harm than good. If a brat manages to make it to fifteen years of age, they go through a ceremony of sorts and are not only given a name, but also a assigned a job, of which there are three; Breeder, Builder, Hunter (and get the matching number of scars signifying which group they belong to). Hunters seem to be held in the highest esteem (which is understandable since they not only provide food but are also expected to protect the Enclave with their life) whereas Breeders seem to command the lowest respect even though people with any birth defects and such were not allowed to become Breeders (lest they pass on their less than stellar genes to the next generation) and finally Builders are somewhere in between the two as they provide everything from medicinal salves to weaponry for the rest of the Enclave. That said, a Hunter/Huntress or a Builder can always be demoted to a Breeder for disobeying the rules.
The story is told through the eyes of Girl15 who has wanted to be a Huntress ever since she could remember. She is named Deuce (based on the “artifact” which was a playing card her blood had dripped over when she was cut as part of the naming ceremony) and luckily assigned to the job she wanted. As a Huntress, her job is to leave the enclave, go into the dangerous tunnels, and bring back meat to feed the group. Anything found in the tunnels (artifacts or remnants of the world “before”) should immediately be given to one of the elders upon arrival back to the enclave, otherwise the Hunter or Huntress risks being accused of “hoarding” which is unforgivable. Simple enough except there’s a dangerous threat known as “Freaks” lurking in those tunnels and she has to evade them. We’re not really told what freaks are, but we know that they are mindless beings who eat human flesh, and they vaguely resemble humans. Not hard to suss it out, is it?
Deuce was a good little soldier, all about honor, duty, purpose, all that. She was all about following the rules… unquestioningly, until she meets Fade, a mysterious Hunter (I know you guys are rolling your eyes). Deuce can’t quite understand Fade but she admires the way he fights. Then he says some stuff to her and at first she thinks he’s crazy but little by little, even though she fights it at first, she begins to understand what he’s been trying to tell her.
I have never been outside the enclave, of course. This space compromised the only world I’d ever known, cast in darkness and curling smoke.
Basically, Deuce has been conditioned to blindly serve and obey whereas Fade is so “woke”. The reason why I found Enclave so intriguing was because it takes place in a post-apocalyptic world. The premise alone is endlessly fascinating! Generations and generations of people who have never been above ground, can you imagine? They’ve never breathed fresh air. They’ve never experienced the weather topside (wind, rain, snow). They’ve never even seen the sun! They eat, they sleep, they work (or in the case of the brats, they learn, until they are fifteen years old), that’s it. That is their lives.
People in the world before seem obsessed with objects that existed simply to look pretty.
Their reactions and even their thought process comes across as people truly living in a post-apocalyptic future who are genuinely baffled by the remnants of a more advanced past. You really get the sense that these people have no clue about the world that came before them. At times it can be quite sobering but at other times it can come across as somewhat comical (albeit dark). When Deuce comes across items from the world before she can’t even begin to comprehend the fact that they serve no practical purpose (other than looking aesthetically appealing) which kinda’ remind me of the show Kyle XY.
Another reason why I was so enthralled by this story was because of the overwhelming sense of urgency. Death was always looking over their shoulders. The only thing separating these people’s home from the freaks lurking outside in the tunnels was a makeshift barrier. A minimal injury you wouldn’t even blink at in today’s world, can easily lead to death (once the infection sets in) in their world. Lack of proper hygiene can lead to sickness and eventually death. Lack of food can lead to hunger and eventually death. Lack of water can lead to dehydration and eventually death. Even if a person managed to survive through all of that, they’d still end up sorta’ withered and wilted and die at a young age from the horrible living conditions (lack of sunlight, proper nutrition, smoke inhalation, etc…), such a bleak existence.
If anyone disobeyed the rules, they’d be banished by the elders, which out in those freak-infested tunnels was pretty much a death sentence. Fade wasn’t born in the enclave as he just sorta’ showed up one day (many years ago) and would have been sent right back out into the tunnels (even though he was effectively a child) but he had impressed the elders enough with his aptitude for fighting (they figured he’d be useful) so they let him stay and he received a name, a profession (Hunter), the scars, all that, once he turned fifteen. Somehow Deuce ends up getting banished from the enclave and Fade decides to leave with her. With no sense of purpose anymore Deuce feels lost but Fade has an idea of where they should go next.
<!–Warning Spoiler Alert Warning Enclave, Outpost and Horde reviewed here. Warning Spoiler Alert Warning–>
On their way to their new destination, they come across a gang who attacks them, which brings forth the question “Who are the real monsters, humans or freaks?”. I won’t go into it too much but after a lot of fighting goes down, our little duo grow into an unlikely foursome united by a common goal of wanting to survive, as Fade continues leading them towards the safe haven he is so sure exists. At this point it seems almost mythical but none of them have anywhere else to go or even an inkling on where to go next, so they continue onward. Unfortunately, one of the foursome, Tegan (who was never a fighter to begin with) gets hurt and so the other three have to pick up the slack as they battle against the freaks. Eventually, even Deuce gets seriously injured and consequentially starts hallucinating. She dreams that Silk (her former boss in the Enclave) appears and tells her that the Enclave is no more. They were over-run with freaks and everyone is dead. She also tells Deuce to never let the campfire go out, no matter what. As such, every time Deuce wakes up from her feverish dreams, Deuce insists that the other two keep the campfire going. They don’t quite understand her obsession with the fire especially since it’ll basically alert the freaks to their location but they do it anyway. Things look bleak for the foursome, as two of them are incapacitated and the other two don’t stand a chance if the group is ever found by the freaks which is a strong possibility what with the fire acting as a beacon for every freak in the vicinity. Thankfully, the fire attracts the attention of an old man on a supply run. His name is Longshot. Deuce is particularly shocked as she’s never seen nor heard of anyone make it past the age of twenty-five and Longshot is clearly much older than that. The four kids squeeze into the back of his small wagon and he takes them with him to his town… Salvation.
The second book picks up where the group left off. Each of the four kids was placed with a foster family. Deuce is placed with Momma Oaks and her husband Edmund (the town’s shoe-maker). Tegan who is well on her way to healing (in more ways than one) was placed with the town’s Doctor and is currently apprenticing with him, while his wife dotes on her. Stalker is placed with the blacksmith and is currently apprenticing with him. Fade is placed with a volatile man who is in charge of the town’s horses or something (don’t really remember). Each of the kids has to go school where they learn things like History, which frustrates if not infuriates Deuce to no end because in her old home (Enclave) she was already deemed an adult at fifteen years of age and even has the scars to prove it, whereas by Salvation standards you had to be sixteen years of age. Even worse, Deuce is suffocated by the rigid gender-roles of the super-religious, backwoods town but does what she can to please her foster mother while not compromising her Huntress self. For example, Deuce will wear a dress because she has to but underneath it she’ll also be wearing practical “fighting” clothes. She’d go to school by the day but during the night, she and Stalker would train together (so they wouldn’t go soft) or she’d sneak off to Longshot (the man who found them) as he guarded the town and settle in beside him asking him all kinds of questions which he always answered obligingly.
Somehow the foursome had all gone their separate ways with Fade and Tegan seemingly comfortable in their new surroundings whereas Deuce and Stalker almost going stir-crazy. Tegan enjoys wearing pretty dresses, quickly makes friends with the other girls her age, and basically avoids Deuce as she wants to put her horrible past behind her and wants to not only blend in but actually settle in. Fade seems to want to avoid Deuce for whatever reason as well. Deuce feels isolated, hurt, and lonely but being the noble person she is, gives them the space that they need. Deuce focuses more on the fact that they are freaks still out there or muties as the townsfolk call them and yet only the men are allowed to guard the town while she has to go to school where the kids whisper behind her back and giggle at the mistakes she makes when she’s forced to read out loud during class. Even the teacher seems to take great pleasure in humiliating Deuce for no reason other than the fact that Deuce is different. With that being said, Deuce learns (in school) that the people of Salvation believe that Muties (a.k.a. Freaks) is God’s punishment for mankind’s hubris. That’s another reason why they give Deuce a hard time. They’re afraid her “unwomanly” ways will anger God, and another calamity will befall them as punishment. Meanwhile Deuce has no concept of religion, so she doesn’t quite know what to make of their beliefs.
The first part of Outpost starts off slow and is incredibly frustrating! Where was the excitement of the first book, Enclave? Then it dawned on me. I was frustrated because Deuce was so frustrated! That’s a testament to writer’s skill, right there. The first part of Outpost focuses more on character development as Deuce tries to conciliate her Huntress side with the girl within (which she thinks of as having a Breeder‘s heart, because back in the Enclave they were all taught that having a soft side was a sign of weakness). That said, Deuce can’t help but warm up to her foster parents, especially when they show her kindness and love time and time again and expect nothing in return. Back in the enclave, a sire (father) or dam (mother) were encouraged to look after all the brats collectively (as a whole), not foster a special relationship with their own offspring. Deuce never knew her dam (mom) or sire (dad) so Momma Oaks and her husband Edmund were the closest thing she had to a family. Deuce and Longshot also seem to develop a fondness for each other because he never turned her away whenever she’d sneak off to hang out with him and unlike the rest of the townsfolk he respected her opinion. I found Deuce‘s relationship with Longshot endearing as it kinda’ gave me Anne of Green Gables vibes (Anne’s relationship with her foster father Mathew).
Deuce signs up for the summer patrol (even though it’s not right that a female be amongst the men, dressing like them, fighting alongside them, etc…) as do Fade and Stalker. Of course most of the town have no qualms with the boys joining up but take issue with Deuce being a part of it because she’s female (regardless of her fighting skills). Seeing as how back in the Enclave, she never had to deal with gender bias, Deuce can’t quite fathom the fact that the citizens of Salvation would prefer that she act like a proper lady (cook, sew, etc…) rather than have her as an able-bodied soldier defending their town. Gender bias actually plays a huge role in the second book and a lot of it rings true to me (I can totally relate) as a Kuwaiti woman living in Kuwait, so I understand her frustration. The foursome reconnect and the drama between them continues.
Deuce suspects that Muties are getting smarter and even though it’s so outrageous that even she can’t quite believe it herself, shares that concern. Expecting Longshot to be dismissive, she’s shocked when he takes her concern seriously. The summer patrol’s main mission still stands but Longshot gets Fade and Stalker to train the guards in combat because without their guns, the guards are effectively useless. After several light skirmishes, the Muties finally attack full-strength. Only a handful of guards survive and the ones that do are severely injured including Deuce. She wakes up a few days later only to find out that Salvation is surrounded by the horde of Muties. The guards are exhausted after pulling extra-long shifts but keep shooting Muties even though it’s effectively useless as the horde is just too big for any sort of dent to be made in their numbers. The guards use up all their ammo almost as fast as it’s made.
Wanting to help protect the town that took her in, Deuce picks up a gun and starts shooting alongside the guards when she starts hearing a distracting noise within the town. When it gets too loud for her to ignore, she turns around wanting to yell at the culprit to pipe down only to find out it’s the Mayor’s wife holding a bible, screeching that Salvation was a safe place until Deuce and her “unwomanly ways” came along, and that Deuce needs to be punished to appease God. Worse still, the mayor’s wife has a crowd of believers with her who start picking up her rant. No stranger to mob mentality, Deuce starts dreading what might happen next. Thankfully, the Mayor comes over and tells his wife to go back home. At first she doesn’t budge but he reminds her that as stated by the bible, a wife’s duty is to obey her husband and not doing so would be considered “unwomanly” and therefore she’d be doing the exact same thing she was accusing Deuce of doing. Realizing she got beat at her own game, she goes home quietly and the crowd disperses… for now.
The Mayor sends Deuce on a secret mission to a town called Soldier’s Pond to request backup. It’s not really a secret mission as much as a hail mary because at this point they’ve got no chance of surviving the horde, especially since the people of Salvation are not fighters. After getting her supplies (including Longshot‘s map) ready, Deuce is just about to head out on her own when the foursome are reunited once again. Tegan, Stalker and Fade join Deuce because they all want to do their part.
Personally, I didn’t like the fact that the second book ended with a cliff-hanger (that’s just mean) but thankfully, I’d purchased the entire series (all three books) on my Kindle and didn’t have to wait for the next and final book otherwise I would’ve been a bit upset (read: gone crazy).
Only resting for precious few hours of sleep, the foursome finally arrive exhausted to Soldier’s Pond, a few days later. Soldier’s Pond is not so much a town as much as it is a military compound which would explain how they’ve managed to stay alive. The foursome quickly relay their mission and while waiting on a decision from the council, take a quick nap after being fed before waking up and hotfooting it back to Salvation with a few soldiers and an Elite Squad of sorts.
The Elite Squad strongly reminds me of the main group you’d see in any given Anime show. They all have their own unique fighting styles. They’re relatively younger and yet are all somehow quite pragmatic when it comes to laying their lives on the line to fight Muties. There’s more to it than that but for some reason I kept getting Anime vibes from them, which led me to believe that the author might have been into Anime (and/or possibly RPGs) at one point in her life. I dunno’, figuring out what influenced an author to write a really good story is part of the fun for me.
The group make it to Salvation with backup but they’re too late. Our foursome, the handful of soldiers and the elite squad save what few people they can and head back to Soldier’s Pond with the threat of the horde looming over their shoulder. It’s an especially grueling trip for the foursome as they hadn’t had any proper rest in days but they hold the rear as they fight Muties along the way with the help of the Elite Squad, giving enough time for the non-combatants (citizens of Salvation) to slowly but surely make their way to Soldier’s Pond. Once there, since her foster family didn’t make it out of Salvation, it falls to Tegan with some assistance from Deuce, to do what she can for the injured. As if the situation wasn’t horrible enough, the person in charge of Soldier’s Pond (whose decisions have to be formally voted on by the council) decrees that the families must volunteer one person (from each family) to join the town’s army if they wanted to stay in Soldier’s Pond indefinitely. Otherwise, they’ll have to leave. The deadline is about a month, which is supposedly enough time for those who are injured to heal whereas those who haven’t, by then, are probably never going to.
The differences between Salvation and Soldier’s Pond are hard to miss, especially after a few weeks of living there. Unlike Salvation who preferred to be deaf, blind, and mute to the world outside their walls, Soldier’s Pond was in contact with the other towns. They even welcomed traders to their town which is how they met Longshot (who was the only person in Salvation willing venture to the neighboring towns on supply runs). They had small shacks with cots that were very far from the comfy homes of Salvation. The food was mush-y bland mass-produced slop eaten in the mess hall. Everyone wore drab green uniforms (it was the only material they had in surplus) but unlike Salvation, both men and women freely wore pants in Soldier’s Pond. Soldiers were regularly running laps, doing drills, etc… (whatever else soldiers do) in the yard. There was order. There was discipline. There was a chain of command. Unfortunately or fortunately for Deuce, the legal age to enlist in the army was eighteen and once again, she came up short. If it was up to Deuce, she’d wait until she was eighteen, join the army, follow orders, and live a relatively simple life. That said, she noticed how unhappy Momma Oaks (her foster mother) was in Soldier’s Pond. She vowed to find a better place for the people who took her in and showed her love… without asking for anything in return… ever.
The Commander strong-arms Deuce into going on a covert mission to the neighboring town where a scientist has supposedly been working on a cure. It’s not lost on Deuce that she’s not old enough to join the army but is being sent on a mission regardless (rules can be bent). Deuce strikes a deal with the Commander, agreeing to go on the condition that she can address the soldiers freely upon her return. Deuce and Fade run to the nearest town without telling anyone including Stalker and Tegan. They come across several Freaks/Muties along the way but eventually make it to the town, and find the loopy scientist. Unfortunately, things have gone terribly wrong with his cure so he tells them to go back to Soldier’s Pond and tell the commander it’s a no-go. As he fixes them something warm to drink, he answers their questions and gives them a more factual history of how Muties came to be. Armed with new knowledge about the biology of the Freaks/Muties, they leave word at the motel that an army is forming at Soldier’s Pond and the duo head back. The duo are debriefed by the Commander before Deuce wants to make good on the deal they struck earlier. The Commander states that they will just laugh at Deuce but promises that whoever wants to join her cause is free to do so without any repercussions.
Deuce makes her speech in front of the entire town. Basically, her goal is to unite the people (from every town still standing) to fight against the horde (thousands upon thousands) of Muties. As predicted, not many take her seriously. Fade, Stalker, and Tegan, her old-school crew immediately step forward. The Elite Squad step forward. Some people from the scientist’s town (who are at first were angry that they were misled as they believed the Army was backed by Soldier’s Pond) eventually also step forward who Stalker claims as part of his Scouts. It’s not a very impressive army but Deuce and her army head out to save what’s left of humanity from the ever-evolving Muties! You won’t be able to begin to guess what happens next, truly…
I won’t go too into detail about it but the last book actually reminds me of an RPG (my first, actually) called Suikoden (1996). I really enjoyed the third book, almost as much as the first book. The overwhelming sense of urgency had a strong presence in the final book. At the end of the day, I’d classify this as a Young Adult story (just like The Hunger Games) but that doesn’t take away from the fact that it was extremely well-written. The character development was realistic, the fighting scenes weren’t excessive, and there was a sufficient amount of unexpected plot twists. Anne Aguire did an excellent job at building a post-apocalyptic world in the Razorland Trilogy and the research she’s done is quite apparent in each and every book. The townsfolk of Salvation are descendents of an Amish settlement, Soldier’s Pond are remnants of the Army, etc… Coincidentally, just like The Long Walk by Stephen King (reviewed – here), the majority of The Razorland Trilogy (#1 Enclave #2 Outpost #3 Horde) also takes place in Maine. This was a really good book, so entertaining to read, and such a page-turner! Honestly, I wholeheartedly hope they turn this into a tv-series because it’s a wonderful story that deserves to be shared across several platforms. Personally, I loved the Razorland Trilogy and it is in fact what inspired me to start talking about books on this blog!