Monday, November 4, 2013

Book Review: Horde by Ann Aguirre

Holding your breath for that other book review? Sorry, I work weekends, and I'm just getting to it.

I talked about two books, both the third in their respective series, being disappointments. And while I've found much less to grumble about with this one, there are still a few issues.

Prolific author Ann Aguirre, who writes a lot of YA and who competently handles genres from dystopian, sci-fi, to steampunk while melding genres at will, took on the zombie novel with the first of her Razorland sage, Enclave. It was a Kindle Daily Deal in September, and with its fairly solid reviews and interesting premise, I was intrigued.

Deuce is a young girl living underground, in what used to be the subways, in a small enclave. Her people divide themselves into three archetypes, Builders, Breeders, and Hunters. She's always yearned to be a Hunter, has trained for it, and is about to be given her opportunity to prove herself against the "Freaks" as they're known. Her only problem is that she's just been paired with the outsider, Fade.

Fade's already lost one partner, and because he wasn't born into the enclave but rather found them and was warily accepted into their ranks on the basis of his fighting skills, everyone pretty much avoids him. Deuce isn't pleased.

Soon enough, she and Fade are caught up in dangerous assignments and, worse, Deuce is beginning to realize that perhaps the enclave isn't as well governed and well-run as she thought. Independent thinking comes with some difficulty to her; Deuce long ago drank the punch. But with the evidence piling up in front of her eyes, and with their own ouster and her friends' apparent backstabbing, she must learn the truth of the world below and, frighteningly, above.

As she and Fade learn to rely on each other and fight their way through a post-apocalyptic landscape, they develop a more intense relationship that goes beyond hunting partners.

And if you've ever thought that what a good zombie novel is lacking is hot and bothered romance, you would be right!*

I finished Enclave in a single day, immediately purchased the second book, Outpost, finishing it in a day, and then I waited impatiently for a month until the last of the series, Horde, was released. Are the first two that good? Oh, yes. The third? Well...

Let me get past some basic issues with the series: While Aguirre is a terrific plot master, and she can write action scenes like nobody's business, and she deftly handles the "hot and bothered" parts with spine-tingling aplomb, the actual nuts-and-bolts of the writing is difficult to ignore -- if you're as anal as I am about things like tense and, mostly, paragraph and sentence structure. Clunky sentences abound, not to mention an astounding number of paragraphs that consist of unrelated ideas. There's an awful lot of telling, not showing, as well. And sometimes, dialogue -- especially Deuce's -- comes across flat.

I used to be heavily involved with the Harry Potter fandom, and I was always receiving rec's for fics. Some of them were awfully written, and when I would say that, people would say, "Yeah, but the story is GREAT!" I learned that for many, story trumps all else. I, personally, like a total package -- a well-written, grabs-you-by-the-throat story. But since I managed to get past my misgivings and fly through the first two Razorland books, I imagine many of you will, too.

But the third book. Woe, the third book.

Much as I discussed in my previous post regarding my disgruntlement with Lynch's Republic of Thieves, authors with great ideas tend to start out gangbusters, but then fall flat. So did the Razorland series. It's my opinion that Aguirre wrote herself into a corner, starting out with Enclave and not really visualizing how this all might turn out. Book three, Horde, ends with a deus ex machina -- of sorts. Yes, some hints were dropped in book two, but still, there are so many holes that it loses a lot of credibility. In addition, someone really needs to be in charge of continuity. For instance, in book two, Deuce catches her first sight of the Freak encampment, and she thinks, "It must be a thousand strong." In book three, Morgan asks her how big the horde is, and she replies that she can't count that high, but she saw 500 beans once and it might be more. What? Unfortunately, that happens way more than it should.

Additionally, there's some pseudo-science thrown in to validate the change the Freaks/Mutants are going through, and the speed with which they are changing. There's an entire timeline that doesn't make much sense.

Suspension of disbelief is paramount in order to enjoy most fantasy, sci-fi, etc books. Just don't stretch it too much. Horde, unfortunately, stretched mine to breaking.

Aguirre is a very popular author, for good reason. While I'm ultimately dissatisfied with the ending to the Razorland series, there's a lot to like, and I would certainly give her other books a chance. As for the Razorland series, if you like dystopian YA, and you want a female protagonist who is bad ass while still caring deeply for her friends and partner and who is often altruistic, look no further. It's got that in spades.

*As you probably realized, it's not about zombies at all, in the typical sense, but mutated humans. I thought it was a zombie novel at first. But mutated humans are every bit as good as zombies and deserve the same respect! ;)

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