Horde is the finale in the Razorland series by Ann Aguirre, a young adult, post-apocalyptic trilogy featuring zombie-like creatures and battered towns of survivors which dot the eastern seaboard of the former United States. It also features a very strong Katniss-like female protagonist, but unlike Katniss – she lives to fight.
In Enclave, the first book, we meet Deuce and Fade, two unlikely partners trained as hunters to keep the enclave safe. They lived underground, in the subway tunnels of the former New York City and for generations, they had never been topside. Deuce was young when she officially became a huntress, helping clear the tunnels of the freaks (zombie-like creatures) and trap for food to feed the enclave. By the end, Deuce and Fade (a former topside dweller, her romantic interest, and her fighting partner) were forced up and out by an act of sabotage. In Outpost, Deuce and Fade made it to a small settlement far outside of the city where she felt safe. Because of her fighting skills, she became a source of protection for the farmers to protect against freak incursions. Again she was forced away, but this time due to religious reasons (a woman in a man’s job would definitely incur the wrath of God).
Horde begins with Deuce and Fade, and the two topsiders who joined their travels in Outpost, Stalker and Tegan, as they leave the relative safety of Salvation to find Soldier’s Pond, another settlement two days away. Salvation has been under heavy attack from the freaks, now called muties. The religious protesters who condemned Deuce made it difficult for the men to protect the city against the growing mutie forces which had surrounded the town, and so the mayor asked Deuce to leave for a secret mission – get help from Soldier’s Pond.
The muties had been changing, something that Deuce keeps trying to tell people. They were learning at an accelerated rate – learning how to hunt, learning how to use fire, learning how to set traps. They were also changing physically – they were getting stronger, they stank less of death and rotten meat, they no longer had open sores.
Thankfully, when they reach Soldier’s Pond, the colonel there listens to Deuce’s story, and agrees with her assessment. She also agrees to send a conscript to aid the almost overrun town of Salvation. But when they get back to Salvation, it’s all over. The town was sacked and few survivors made it out, but Deuce’s adoptive family was spared. The survivors were brought back to Soldier’s Pond.
Although Deuce has proven to be the most efficient mutie-killing machine, she is not allowed to join Soldier’s Pond army because of her age. Yet, she is secretly recruited for another covert operation – to get intel from the science labs in another neighboring town. She accepts, on the condition that she’s allowed to create her own army and recruit from within the ranks of Soldier’s Pond’s army.
Her mission, aided again by Fade, Stalker and Tegan, was a success – and she begins to put together her own army. Deuce wants to destroy the entire horde of muties because she knows they will stop at nothing until they destroy each town, one by one. Her first dismal recruitment yielding a pitiful army of twelve ventures out into the wilderness and begins to decimate small pockets of muties. Rumor of their success has people venturing out to find them, to enlist, to join, to kill. Eventually Deuce, at sixteen, has an army powerful enough to take on the entire horde.
The theme of the Razorland trilogy is courage: the courage of one child is enough to spawn a turning point in human civilization. This last book is meant to rally the senses. On one hand, the reader wants to cheer after each act of bravado, after each conquest, after each electrifying speech meant to spawn hope and the desire to kill, kill, kill. On the other hand, it gets a little difficult to see such militaristic triumph under the helm of a sixteen-year-old. However, a fair amount of verisimilitude is provided when you understand the nature and the upbringing of Deuce, the huntress.
Deuce originated from an underground society where there was no sexism. She became a huntress, the warrior class of the enclave, and she lived to fight – that was her designation. In other towns in topside, she learned that women didn’t fight because of sexist roles, and others didn’t fight because they had become soft with a pacifist reliance on decaying security. But she was built a warrior and she had been bred with militaristic qualities. Because of this, she couldn’t rest, not knowing that the muties were getting strong enough to bring down everything she held dear in these new civilizations, namely – her new companions and family.
I found some lines that really made me bristle with excitement.
“The enemy’s sleeping, men. Bring the pain.”
And some that made me laugh.
“The first adventure I ever went on didn’t lead me far from home,” he said. “But it was dangerous. See, on the other side of the river, we have ruins, similar to what I imagine Gotham is like. So I swam across to explore, and in my wandering, I ran across a building full of books, you can’t even imagine -”
“I can, actually. We found a place like that in Gotham. It’s called a library.”
“I know that,” Morrow said. “I suspected you didn’t.”
“I so enjoy it when people assume I’m stupid.”
He shook his head. “Not that, just very focused on killing.”
There’s also a slight love triangle (but not really), that’s resolved. Deuce is in love with Fade and that she has made clear from start to finish, even when tag-along Stalker keeps trying to push his way into her affections, and even when Fade tries to push her away. It’s a sugary romance that is made sweeter when Deuce is forced to hide their romance from her army and treat Fade like a member of the ranks while she desperately wants to proclaim their love for all to see. And their partnership (equal in every way) is admittedly pretty cool – they know how to fight strategically back to back for hours on end, while they vanquish armies of attacking muties as a deadly team.
In all, a great end to the Razorland trilogy. As the wars grow, you can be sure of massive bloodshed on either side and heavy casualties. One of our favored four gets the axe – think you know who? Horde is all about action with some mutie surprises you might not see coming.
by Ann Aguirre