How much of your humanity can you sacrifice, before you become a monster?Enclave opens on the naming day for Girl15 (thereafter, Deuce) who has survived fifteen years in the underground system of tunnels that form her world. As a huntress, Deuce joins the faction of her society responsible for providing food and protecting the enclave from Freaks – a role she has trained for fiercely. Paired for duty with Fade, an aloof fellow hunter of mysterious origins, Deuce discovers her world is not all that it seems, and is forced to question her loyalties, her beliefs and make a decision that will change her existence. Unlike some other recent dystopian offerings, where the worldbuilding is entertaining yet highly implausible, Aguirre’s speculation is anchored solidly in recent history and current events (with the exception of the Freaks). A perusal of the Authors Note reveals the sources of inspiration for this projected post-apocalyptic world – and make no mistake: it’s not pretty. This is a violent, amoral place, and Aguirre’s prose is steeped in blood, gore, references to abuse, hopelessness and patriarchy gone to hell in a handbasket. Against this grim backdrop, the characters are confronted with situations that call into question their core convictions. And in a world where survival is paramount, where is the line between good and evil? When do the ends stop justifying the means in a place that no longer has a measure for brutality, where social and moral mores have disintegrated? And how much cruelty divides the bad from the not so bad?Deuce is but one of the substantial crop of “kickass” heroines currently populating YA shelves. And she is certainly not the first who has struggled to reconcile her fighting, survivor instinct with a burgeoning empathetic side. However, I felt that the blend here was handled more successfully than in some other cases. Deuce’s evolving principles still feel in keeping with who she is, and what she has been raised to believe. While she begins to experience new feelings and twinges of conscience, she does not lose who she is as a huntress. Rather, the broadening of her perspective makes her a stronger character, both as a fighter and a person in general. The development of compassion and attraction doesn’t cut her off at the knees, or incapacitate her with romantic dithering. On this note, I have to mention the fact that Deuce experiences interest from opposing angles (yes, otherwise known as a love triangle). I have to say though, that I don’t believe it was a trope-tastic triangle, as such, and that I felt Deuce’s actions and lack of intuition regarding Fade and Stalker were in keeping with her character and the life she had lead up to that point. Basically, while it caused me some anxiety as a reader, being able to see what Deuce couldn’t, I didn’t mind its incorporation into the plot. In a similar vein, I found the way that Deuce viewed herself was rather refreshing. In one passage, (I can’t recall exactly where, I was too engrossed to mark pages as I read) Deuce notes that she feels beautiful when she is fighting. It was an interesting deviation from the general rule to see a protagonist tie her sense of beauty to her skills and the strength of her body rather than simply the way a guy looks at her. (Not that I would mind Fade looking at me. I adored that guy). On the subject of strength, I enjoyed the way Aguirre explored the different forms this takes in different characters. In particular, Deuce’s gradual understanding and recognition of Tegan’s strengths, and the development of their friendship despite starkly contrasting histories, was an interesting addition to Deuce’s character growth. Enclave strikes me as a book that is going to divide readers along some quite distinct lines, and I can see some disliking it with a fervor equal to (if not greater) than my like. There is a lot of ambiguity and greyness and plain ugliness to this story, as it hypothesizes on life in a world with little or no system of ethics. However, it’s this intensely challenging nature that made me engage with it and Deuce in a way I couldn’t some other post-apocalyptic stories. To say I found Enclave gripping would be a bit of an understatement. I sat immobile on the couch, I fought sleep to read into the early hours, I resisted the urge to shout at anyone who tried to speak to me while I was reading. And I felt a little crestfallen to discover I have more than a year to wait until finding out what the future holds for Deuce. Regardless, Enclave is a strong opening to the trilogy, with interesting and compelling characters that I felt an investment in, and a complex, frighteningly believable world.