Readers Write: Review of Ann Aguirre’s Conclave (& Reader’s Choice C*ntest)

Today for “Readers Write,” I’m welcoming guest reviewer Carien, who’s sharing a review of Enclave, first in Ann Aguirre’s Razorland YA series, which was released in 2011. I’ve heard awesome things about this series, and Enclave is waiting patiently on my virtual TBR pile, already purchased. 
Read on for Carien’s review and a chance to win this book or your choice of another of author Ann Aguirre’s books.

ABOUT ENCLAVE: In Deuce’s world, people earn the right to a name only if they survive their first fifteen years. By that point, each unnamed ‘brat’ has trained into one of three groups–Breeders, Builders, or Hunters, identifiable by the number of scars they bear on their arms. Deuce has wanted to be a Huntress for as long as she can remember….As a Huntress, her purpose is clear—to brave the dangerous tunnels outside the enclave and bring back meat to feed the group while evading ferocious monsters known as Freaks. She’s worked toward this goal her whole life, and nothing’s going to stop her, not even a beautiful, brooding Hunter named Fade. When the mysterious boy becomes her partner, Deuce’s troubles are just beginning….Down below, deviation from the rules is punished swiftly and harshly, and Fade doesn’t like following orders. At first Deuce thinks he’s crazy, but as death stalks their sanctuary, and it becomes clear the elders don’t always know best, Deuce wonders if Fade might be telling the truth. Her partner confuses her; she’s never known a boy like him before, as prone to touching her gently as using his knives with feral grace. …As Deuce’s perception shifts, so does the balance in the constant battle for survival. The mindless Freaks, once considered a threat only due to their sheer numbers, show signs of cunning and strategy… but the elders refuse to heed any warnings. Despite imminent disaster, the enclave puts their faith in strictures and sacrifice instead. No matter how she tries, Deuce cannot stem the dark tide that carries her far from the only world she’s ever known.

Review by Carien (you can read her Goodreads profile here)

A Scene I’d Read Twice: 
Deuce and Fade are send on a trip to another enclave. During this trip Deuce gets some new insights in both Fade as the enclave she grew up in. These insights force her to re-evaluate her view of the world she grew up in. I really loved reading how Fade made Deuce think about things and how this shook up her life.

I Didn’t Quite Buy:
There are some small inconsistencies in the story, like Deuce using the word window and then later on in the story she suddenly doesn’t know what a window is. These are very minor though and I think most readers wouldn’t notice.

The World:
The first part of the story takes place in an underground enclave. The rules of the enclave are strict and harsh. It made for a really intriguing setting and I loved discovering more about the enclave and the world around it. It was fun to read how this world is set up and to discover through the descriptions that are given where the enclave is set and to see things that are common to us through the eyes of Deuce.
       Later on in the story when Deuce and Fade travel outside of the enclave the setting grows even more grim and gritty. Ann Aguirre describes everything in such colourful detail I could easily picture it. It is one of the better Dystopian/Post-Apocalyptic settings I have encountered in my reading.

The Characters: 
Deuce – Deuce grew up in the enclave and has worked hard to become a Huntress. She is proud to be one of the people who protect the enclave and provide food for those living there. But when she is partnered with Fade she learns there’s a lot more to the enclave than she ever knew.
Fade – Fade isn’t born in the enclave but was taken in as a young boy. He doesn’t fit in and is a loner, but when partnered with Deuce he has to decide whether she can be trusted with the secrets he keeps.

General Thoughts: 
This book is absolutely awesome in my opinion.
It has everything I love: suspense, kick-ass action, terrifying monsters, betrayal, hope and even love. It’s gritty, dark and full of emotion. I like how Aguirre doesn’t pull any punches and shows the gruesome reality of a world in ruins and what mankind can turn into when the worst comes to the worst.

Thanks, Carien! I really do think I’d love this. Have any of you guys read it? Ann Aguirre has a few terrific series out there (Corine Solomon, anyone?)–do you have a favorite? Weigh in for a chance to win your choice of Ann’s books. 

Interested in doing a guest review for Preternatura and telling us about a book you love? Email me and let me know. Reviews should be in a speculative fiction genre, and will include a link back to your website or blog.

Q&A with #YA Author J. Barton Mitchell (& W*n MIDNIGHT CITY)

Today, I’d like to welcome debut YA science fiction author J. Barton Mitchell to Preternatura! His new SF YA novel, MIDNIGHT CITY, is the first in the new Conquered Earth series, published by St. Martin’s Press. He’s also a screenwriter and has created the POE comic book series. You can learn more about him at
In the meantime, want to win a copy of Midnight City? (You really do…it sounds faboo.) Read on…

ABOUT MIDNIGHT CITY:  Earth has been conquered. An extraterrestrial race known as The Assembly has abducted the adult population, leaving the planet’s youth to fend for themselves. In this treacherous landscape, Holt, a bounty hunter, is transporting his prisoner Mira when they discover Zoey, a young girl with powerful abilities who could be the key to stopping The Assembly. As they make their way to the cavernous metropolis of Midnight City, the trio must contend with freedom fighters, mutants, otherworldly artifacts, pirates, feuding alien armies, and perhaps most perilous of all: Holt and Mira’s growing attraction to each other.


Give us the “elevator pitch” for your latest work?

I keep hoping to someday actually do an elevator pitch. For MIDNIGHT CITY, I’d go with: WAR OF THE WORLDS meets LORD OF THE FLIES. Aliens have conquered the planet, enslaved the adult population, and only its children are left to fight them. The story follows a bounty hunter trying to get his captive back to the subterranean metropolis of Midnight City, when they stumble upon a crashed ship which just might contain the key to defeating the alien invaders: a little girl named Zoey.
What is your favorite scene in the book?
That’s a tough one, I like a lot of them. If I had to pick one, it would probably be the moment where Zoey reveals her most relevant power at the end of part one. When that happens, it changes everything because you get a glimpse of why she’s so important to the Assembly, though it definitely poses more questions than it answers. I love the transition from having a really pivotal, revealing moment…into a desperate action scene. The river battle there is one of my favorites, as well.
Hardest scene you’ve ever written:
I don’t know about hardest ever, they all have their unique difficulties. As far as MIDNIGHT CITY goes, I would say the hardest scene to write was the dance between Holt and Mira. The writing itself wasn’t overly tough, but figuring out how to give those characters a moment like that, and have it be non-verbal and yet still resonate was hard. I think actions speak louder than words, and it’s much more engaging to go through something with two characters than it is to listen to them just speak their feelings. Besides, at this point, neither of them is really able to make sense of their feelings, much less talk about them, which makes the ideas harder to get across, but also the moment more meaningful, I think. That scene, unexpectedly, has become a very important moment, not just for the first book, but for the series as a whole. What happens there is constantly recalled for various reasons, and it sets a whole host of things in motion. I’m proud of that scene.

What’s on your nightstand or top of your TBR pile?
I usually read three things at once: A comic book, a non-fiction book, and a novel. I don’t like to read more than one of each with my limited attention span. Right now, comic wise, I’m reading the Chris Claremont/Frank Miller WOLVERINE storyline they did where he goes to Japan and fights the Hand. I wanted to check it out because the new movie is based on those issues. Non-fiction, I just started THE THREE PILLARS OF ZEN. And I wanted to reread William Gibson’s NEUROMANCER, which is probably my favorite novel, and one I continually find new things in every single time I read it.

Favorite book when you were a child:
Terry Brook’s THE SWORD OF SHANNARA. My mom bought it for me, and I think it was the first real book I ever read. I read it over and over, the whole SHANNARA series. I even read it before LORD OF THE RINGS for some reason. It was one of the first books where I was really aware of “world building”, and it was a major influence on me wanting to make my own. 

Your five favorite authors:
Only five? That’s tough. Probably William Gibson, Michael Chabon, Robert Jordan, Ernest Hemingway (it’s a cliched choice for a reason), and H.P. Lovecraft.

Book you’ve faked reading:
Given the fact that you’re asking the question, I guess it must be a little odd that I rarely “fake read” anything? However, I did once pretend to have read Jack London’s THE SEA WOLF in order to meet a very cute “Lit” major who worked at my gym. I feel marginally bad about that, because I really would like to read THE SEA WOLF. I have a copy, someday I will.

Book you’ve bought for the cover:
That hasn’t happened in a long time, but when I was a kid I do remember being drawn to Larry Elmore’s awesome cover art for the original DRAGONLANCE CHRONICLES trilogy, by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. I think I read every DRAGONLANCE book there was up until about 1995, and I always loved Elmore’s art style on each one.

Book that changed your life:

THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV by Dostoyevsky. It changed the way I looked at literature, and also how I thought of spirituality and life and the idea of free will. It’s an amazing experience.

Book you most want to read again for the first time:
I already mentioned NEUROMANCER, so I’ll pick something else. Probably AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS by H.P. Lovecraft, which is my favorite story of his. Lovecraft was very interested in suspending disbelief in his horror fiction, and one of the ways he did that was by writing most of them as if they were journal entries or letters from actual people. It gives the stories a very realistic feel as you move through them. MOUNTAINS was no exception, it unfolds as an account of someone’s journey to Antarctica, and the frightening, hidden evidence he finds there of a dangerous, sleeping, alien civilization. After awhile, it feels like you’re on the expedition with them, and you’re dreading what you’re going to find next. I wish I could have that experience for the first time again.

Favorite book about books or writing:
I’ve read a lot of these, but for me I think the most useful is Dean Koontz’ book on writing called HOW TO WRITE BEST SELLING FICTION. Strangely the book is out of print and can be hard to locate without paying through the nose, but it’s well worth it. His advice on structure, voice, prose, and technique is very down to earth and blunt; it’s not vague theory, it’s very detailed. He also goes through a list of all the different genres of fiction and offers his insight and tips for each one, which is enlightening. The market/business aspects of the book are definitely out of date, but the writing ideas presented by Koontz are just as relevant today as they were then. Pretty awesome book by a pretty awesome (and pretty darn prolific) writer.

What’s next?
A few things, but most notably book two of CONQUERED EARTH, called THE SEVERED TOWER, which I’m writing right now, and am really liking. The second book really opens up the world and increases the epic feel of the story, while adding some cool new characters, one of which I think may be my favorite in the series., aren’t you ready to win a copy of Midnight City? Just leave a comment and, if you’re in the U.S., tell me you’re voting today—don’t tell me who you’re voting for, just that you’re voting. It’s one of the greatest privileges we have, regardless of whether or not “our” candidates win the election. I plan to have finished voting before this blog posts at 8:30 a.m. CST.
Up to five entries possible: +1 for comment, +1 for blog follow, +1 for Twitter follow, +1 for a Tweet or RT about the contest, +1 for a Facebook follow. Contests end at midnight CDT U.S. on Saturday.

Quick note: my apologies for putting the word-verification for comments back in. I’m trying to reduce the recent flood of spam coming to my email address. I’ll take it down once the spambots have moved on!