Sunday, October 7, 2012

Mithrendiel Reviews: Outpost (Razorland #2) by Ann Aguirre

Razorland Series, Book 2 | 336 Pgs
September 4, 2012 | Feiwel & Friends
Amazon | B&N | Book Depository

Deuce’s whole world has changed. Down below, she was considered an adult. Now, topside in a town called Salvation, she’s a brat in need of training in the eyes of the townsfolk. She doesn’t fit in with the other girls: Deuce only knows how to fight.
To make matters worse, her Hunter partner, Fade, keeps Deuce at a distance. Her feelings for Fade haven’t changed, but he seems not to want her around anymore. Confused and lonely, she starts looking for a way out.
Deuce signs up to serve in the summer patrols—those who make sure the planters can work the fields without danger. It should be routine, but things have been changing on the surface, just as they did below ground. The Freaks have grown smarter. They’re watching. Waiting. Planning. The monsters don’t intend to let Salvation survive, and it may take a girl like Deuce to turn back the tide.

Outpost is a different kind of novel than Enclave. It has amazing character development and a delicious, swoon worthy romance, but it’s a bit lacking in action.

Enclave was a fast pace survival story. Deuce and Fade literally ran for their lives through most of the book. The story kept me up late at night, glued to the pages, needing to know what happened next.  

Outpost was regrettably easy to put down each night, and left me yearning for the harsh landscapes and nail biting action of its predecessor. This sequel feels more like a YA romance. It focuses on character development and relationships instead of conflict.  

Deuce finds some measure of peace in Salvation. In the relative tranquility of that protected outpost she no longer has to worry about survival, instead she’s forced to tackle issues simultaneously more complicated and trivial - boys, school, chores, family, dances, appearing normal to avoid censure from the town matriarchs, and (on a slightly more exciting note) some scouting and guarding. There is no Enclave-worthy action for the first three quarters of the book.  

Until then, I hadn’t realized I was so much like my own knives, sharp edged, cold, and perfect for keeping people at a distance.

Instead the story focuses on Deuce’s physiological development: learning to accept care from others and give it in return; how to belong without sacrificing one’s identity; and how to be a girl, not just a hunter. This is all good stuff. Necessary even. Deuce needed to grow– her upbringing left her with a singularly skewed world view. The Deuce of Enclave was brave, but she was also highly naive and lacked empathy – a dangerous combination. From her old perspective, the good of the many always outweighed the good of the one. This mindset allowed her to rationalize some pretty atrocious actions committed by elders, companions, and even sometimes herself. She was likable but needed maturity to become a truly heroic character.  

Fortunately, creating realistic character development arcs is one of the things Ms. Aguirre’s does best. Deuce comes into her own in this novel, and she’s not the only one. Fades changes too, whether it is for the better or worse is up to you to decide. Surprisingly, Stalker transforms into a fairly likable character. He recognizes the grave wrongs he perpetuated in the past, and even apologizes.  However, their growth comes at a price for you as a reader: the novel feels slow and isn’t quite the page turner the first book was.  

They’d taken from me the one person I loved. Though the word was one I’d learned Topside, I grasped its meaning intuitively; it was a thing that could not be articulated or explained. It merely was, like the sunrise or a sheer and sudden drop to the giant water that had stolen my breath, where the land ended in the ruins. My love for Fade strengthened me, made me determined never to give up. I would follow him until the world stopped or until I found him. I believed love hadn’t weakened me or left me soft; instead it made me powerful, determined beyond all belief.

Happily the romance in Outpost exceeds all expectations. One of my complaints with the first book was the awkward, somewhat stunted romance between Deuce and Fade. It started off ok, but the end left me frustrated. Outpost absolutely delivers on the romance front. The love between Deuce and Fade is epic, heart rending, and beautiful. Things heat up within the first few chapters and don’t let up until the very end of the book.

Stalker watched us, and that gave me an unpleasant twinge. But I couldn’t change what I’d done to encourage him, only what I did going forward. And for me, it had to be Fade. My choice would always be Fade.

And the best news of all? If you shared my concerns about the burgeoning Stalker-Deuce-Fade triangle (former rapist should not be love interests), you’ll be relieved to know Stalker is (mostly) eliminated as a romantic contender early in this book. As the quote above demonstrates, Deuce makes a choice (what a refreshing concept in YA fiction), and handles the situation with tact and honor. For the most part. There are a few unfortunate mistakes made along the way (and one forceful, impassioned kiss), but she remains loyal to Fade, and her feelings for him are unwavering, even in the face of great tribulation.  

If Outpost were a stand-alone novel, I’d have given it an easy five stars. It’s a beautifully written YA love story, set against a back drop of a dystopian world. Unfortunately as a sequel, it was a bit disappointing. Fair or not, the first book sets your expectations for the rest of the series. And Enclave set the bar pretty high, in terms of action and excitement. The abrupt change in pace between novels felt awkward, and made Outpost seem boring by comparison. I appreciate what Ms. Aguirre was trying to do, but I don’t think the YA romance themes in this novel worked for this series. I’d prefer to see Deuce find love and grow as a person while fleeing for her life, and fighting freaks and rape gangs. The Razorland universe is hard, and brutal, and there is no safety – only the illusion of it. Fortunately, the end of this novel holds a promise of dark times to come, and I, for one, can’t wait to see what happens in the third book.

I didn’t feel secure here anymore— not that there was safety anywhere. The whole world was a ruin, a place of sharp angles and pitiless lines that could cut you to the bone.


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