I’ve noticed a fair few book bloggers sharing their favourite wintery and festive reads this week as we draw closer and closer to Christmas, however I seem to have unintentionally had a zombie themed week of reading instead. Oops!?
This is rather odd for me personally because I do often struggle to care about zombie fiction in general as I find the whole ‘last one on earth, running from cannibalistic zombies’ narrative more stressful than enjoyable. Happily, this week I read two books which have each taken a different perspective on human reanimation, click below for my reviews of both, and to find out about my new book acquisitions from this week – which were all FREE!
Enclave, Ann Aguirre (Square Fish)
Revival,Vol. 1: You’re Among Friends, Tim Seely and Mike Norton (Image Comics)
New York City has been decimated by war and plague, and most of civilization has migrated to underground enclaves, where life expectancy is no more than the early 20s. When Deuce turns 15, she takes on her role as a Huntress, and is paired with Fade, a teenage Hunter who lived Topside as a young boy. When she and Fade discover that the neighboring enclave has been decimated by the tunnel monsters–or Freaks–who seem to be growing more organized, the elders refuse to listen to warnings. And when Deuce and Fade are exiled from the enclave, the girl born in darkness must survive in daylight, in the ruins of a city whose population has dwindled to a few dangerous gangs. As the two are guided by Fade’s long-ago memories, they face dangers, and feelings, unlike any they’ve ever known.
– summary from Amazon.co.uk
The ‘Freaks’ in Enclave are the result of a disease which either killed or mutated the vast majority of the world population. While the survivors hide in Enclaves underground or form gangs Topside, the Freaks scavenge for anything alive or dead which they can devour.
Please note that this review contains discussion of rape and if this triggers you, please do not read on.
Enclave is a difficult one to review, and has made me think a lot about content and how abusive situations are portrayed in fiction.
What’s right with Enclave?
The concept is original, and I felt that the main characters of Deuce and Fade were a great fit together and were both strong and likeable. The world building in the first section of the book which takes place underground in the enclaves is very good indeed, and the sense of a community with strict and often harsh rules is well written – and allows Enclave to stand apart from many YA post-apocalyptic or dystopian novels where the characters and world building are often flimsy to leave room for the big ‘concept’. Encave is a fast-paced, suck-you-in kind of read…
…So, what’s wrong with it?
Well. Here’s the thing. Along their journey Topside, Deuce and Fade meet a young girl called Tegan who they rescue from a gang who keep her as, in the language of the book, a ‘breeder’. AKA, they gang-rape her.
At first, I was cautiously optimistic about this plot event – Tegan seemed to have agency and her own strength that helped her fight her way to freedom alongside Deuce and Fade. The rape was also implicit and not explicitly described, so there was a lack of the sick voyeurism which often accompanies rape narratives in fiction. So far, still optimistic.
And then, Tegan’s rapist (called Stalker, I mean really) joins our merry band of travellers, and both Deuce and Fade essentially tell Tegan to suck it up because this is the god-damn apocalypse and we better forgive and get along or we’ll die, and was it really rape if she wouldn’t rather die than suffer it anyway? No, really. Also, Stalker becomes a love interest for Deuce.
Yes, a canonical rapist and gang-leader makes the moves on our strong huntress protagonist in the company of the girl whom he held hostage for an undetermined amount of time and allowed his gang to repeatedly rape her (including impregnating her and causing her miscarriages…), and this is presented as a viable option for Deuce.
Rape in and of itself isn’t necessarily a ‘never EVER touch this in fiction’ topic; indeed that would be completely stupid; but context is everything. This plot line in Enclave was so clumsy, offensive and awful that it actually pained me to see what had, up to about 3/4 of the way through, been a great book, slowly devolve into a different beast altogether. I almost want to rip the last 100 pages out and rewrite the ending.
On Goodreads I gave this book 3 stars out of 5. It would have been a 4 star without the awful handling of the rape storyline, and would have been a 2 star without the chapters preceding that whole clusterfuck. I’m unsure whether I’ll read the sequels Outpost and Horde yet. I think I need to have some time to process Enclave a little more and decide whether my curiosity over the story is enough to make me suffer more potentially awful rape apologism.
REVIVAL, by contrast, is an absolute gem of a comic, and another example of fantastically original comicery from Image Comics’ raft of creator-owned series’. Revival is a ‘rural noir’ set in small town Wisconsin where for one day, the dead came back to life, and are here to stay.
What I like about Revival is that the story focuses a lot about the consequences of reanimation; how do the living cope with the dead returning home? How are the reliving changed by their deaths? This treatment of zombies actually reminded me a fair bit of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Handling the Undead, which I loved when I read it last year.
I was actually recommended Revival because I was asking after comics with strong female leads (something Image seems particularly good at currently), and what a recommendation. Revival really is packed with complex and wonderfully drawn characters, which carry the story with ease. In fact, I’ve already bought myself vol. 2 to keep reading!
And, of course, this week’s new books!
As mentioned above, both of these books were free! That’s right, £0 was spent on these lovely books, how lucky am I?!
Matched, Ally Condie. I was able to pick Matched up for free at work as we were clearing out our fiction sample copies. It’s fairly battered and marked up which is why it didn’t make the charity box, so I was happy to rescue it!
Elizabeth is Missing, Emma Healey. This is an ARC copy which Penguin/Viking offered up on The Bookseller which I jumped at the chance to get. The summary really caught my eye as the protagonist of this book is actually an elderly woman- the opposite of what I usually read. I’m looking forward to reading this one, and working in publishing I’m aware of the expense it takes to print & distribute ARCs, so thank you Penguin, I promise to read it soon!