Another easy read, Outpost is the second installment of the Razorland series by Ann Aguirre, a young adult series set in a post-apocalyptic America. While I wasn’t too thrilled with the first book, this second novel works a lot better for the age target and in overall appeal.
Deuce, Tegan, Fade, and Stalker were rescued from the wild topside at the end of Enclave and brought to a walled city called Salvation. Deuce, our young knife-wielding, freak(zombie)-killing heroine is the only one who had been born and raised in the subway tunnels of former New York City. Her enclave and others like it lived in strict order. One could either train to be a breeder, a builder or a hunter. She had been trained as a hunter, trained to kill. Fade is her love interest and former hunter partner in the enclave but he had been born topside. Stalker was a gang leader in topside and Tegan was one of his female conquests – she had been captured for forced breeding – e.g. rape.
Just as in down below in the enclave system, the freaks were changing. They were becoming smarter, more capable. Same in topside. It was after fighting many and sustaining injuries when they were rescued by Longshot, a caravan trader who went from safe town to town to trade goods. He brought them to Salvation, a town steeped in fundamentalism.
For Deuce, it has its good points and its bad points, but she can’t complain too much. Because of her age, she gets adopted by a husband and wife and comes to call the woman Mama Oaks. She gets thee square meals a day and snacks, a warm bed, and the comfort of a mother that she never experienced before. Over time, they bond as a true mother and daughter, and Mama Oaks, although set in tradition, knows that she can’t force Deuce to become someone she is not.
“I’d figured I knew what she was worried about, so I assured her: ‘We’ve been bunking together for ages. It wouldn’t be a problem. I’m not interested in breeding.’
‘In … what?’ Her face went pink.
‘In all enclaves, there are those who sire brats to keep the population stable, the best-looking, brightest, and strongest.’ She knew that, of course. “But everybody can’t do so or folks would starve. I’m trained for fighting and protecting, so I’d never do anything that could make me unfit for duty.’
‘Oh, child.’ Her eyes went liquid with sympathy.”
Deuce despises school and having to wear dresses and the fact that girls and women are not allowed to become guards or anything that would betray their god-given femininity. Where she was raised, equality was essential. So she practices at night with Stalker, the gang member who had abducted her in the previous book but then needed her and her friends to battle the freaks. Stalker has become more subdued in this book, and more determined to win Deuce. Fade stays away but comes back into her graces when he admits his jealousy.
Deuce eventually decides to stand up for herself and shows the community what she can do. She is allowed into the guard for the planting season along with Fade and Stalker. Almost as soon as they get out into the fields, they are attacked in mass by the freaks who also dig up and destroy their plantings. At a town meeting, Deuce and Fade are the first to volunteer for a season-long outpost station to guard the fields. Mama Oaks is worried, but bursting with pride.
While out in the fields along with Stalker and twenty other men under the helm of Longshot, they battle more freak attacks, discover the freak’s growing capabilities, and protect the town’s food supply as best they can. Until one of them is taken in the night.
In the first book, I had issues with the two groups of societies we encountered. One lived below ground where although sexes were equal, some were forced into becoming breeders. In the topside society, it was gangs of young men who captured young women for rape. In both societies, no one lived long. Deuce at fifteen was considered middle-age. In Outpost, the group is in a town called Salavation which more resembles a normal township of survivors. Although we have some sexism (men and women have separate gender-based roles), there is the wonderful absence of rape and forced breeding. Phew.
Deuce’s relationship to Mama Oaks is endearing. She had never known her mother because parenting offspring in the enclave was forbidden (brats grew up together, raised by the enclave). She had never felt motherly love or affection before and she was inebriated by it.
I’m still not sold on Stalker. He’s the guy who had held Tegan against her will and allowed her to be raped. He’s the one who tried to take Deuce against her will. In Salvation he explained that he never knew another way. He had been raised by the gangs and to survive, you had to take and kill. Now, he’s a new man. I see that, but I still don’t like it. And he’s still presented a romantic interest to Deuce, but thankfully, she’s all about Fade – who has his own issues.
The best part of this book is the action and the bad-assery of Deuce. She puts the townspeople to shame and her bravery amid the issue of sexism sets the tone for this novel. She volunteers for the outpost position while grown men cower against their wives’ bosoms. She wins the heart of Fade, the town’s leaders, Mama Oaks and her husband, and most of the townspeople. Yet there are some who spout fundamentalist trash-talk against her (she’ll bring the plague upon us!) which makes it all the more fun.
In all, this second book is appropriate for young adults, a lot more fun, and action-packed. Deuce and her knives do the talking and whenever someone is needed to save the day, Deuce is your wo-man.
by Ann Aguirre