I read Ann Aguirre’s Enclave last year and have already talked about how much I liked it. It had zombies, which I love (which? whom? Two sentences into this review and I’m already feeling all existential). It also had a kickass heroine (Deuce), a boy I could root for her to be with (Fade), and excellent worldbuilding. At the time I reviewed Enclave, I spent a paragraph pouting about how far away the release date of Outpost was. Then, though I read and loved Outpost when it was released, this stupid thing I do every day called a job stole all my reviewing time. Thus, now that it’s a new year and I’m trying to be a better blogger (swearsies), this was the first book I went to.

Deuce’s whole world has changed. Down below, she was considered an adult. Now, topside in a town called Salvation, she’s a brat in need of training in the eyes of the townsfolk. She doesn’t fit in with the other girls: Deuce only knows how to fight. To make matters worse, her Hunter partner, Fade, keeps Deuce at a distance. Her feelings for Fade haven’t changed, but he seems not to want her around anymore. Confused and lonely, she starts looking for a way out.

Deuce signs up to serve in the summer patrols—those who make sure the planters can work the fields without danger. It should be routine, but things have been changing on the surface, just as they did below ground. The Freaks have grown smarter. They’re watching. Waiting. Planning. The monsters don’t intend to let Salvation survive, and it may take a girl like Deuce to turn back the tide.

Ann Aguirre is a master of pacing a plot. When I first started reading, I was afraid this would be a book in which we’re info dumped a lot of stuff about the zombies and the world they all live in, but man was I wrong. A lot of stuff happens in this book. A lot. But it also feels like just enough. We see the characters going places and doing things, things I can’t talk about without spoilers. There were scenes in this book that had my heart pounding because I legitimately didn’t know who might live or who would die. The characters we spent a book getting to know are now shoved to the actual edge of the world that remains for society, and living on that boundary means that not only is there plenty of action, but we also get to learn new information by being shown instead of told. This is especially helpful because not everything that happens in this book is happening physically. It’s a different kind of survival Deuce is fighting for – one that requires looking more than five minutes ahead – and that’s reflected in how this book moves.

I said in my review of Enclave that Deuce was amazing because she felt like a real person, and Outpost only enhanced that for me. Deuce is learning a lot about society and herself and how different life underground is from life topside. We see a lot of character development for Deuce, but we see it through the things she does. She’s fighting, physically and emotionally, for her place in society and society’s place in the world. We go out with her and see more of the world and fight her fights right alongside her. It’s not always pretty – when I say she’s fighting I mean it – and her struggles were frustrating for me. But that’s where her realness came in for me. I didn’t always like what Deuce was doing or how she was acting, but I understood her.

My one complaint when I reviewed Enclave was that I felt like the romance between Fade and Deuce sort of fizzled. Outpost made me feel stupid for ever saying that. I thought the problems they had were addressed in a smart way, and I also thought it was done in a very real, relatable way. Deuce and Fade, though grownups in their world, aren’t emotional wizards because they didn’t live in a world where that’s important (Deuce even more so than Fade). But their relationship was touchingly done and all the growth I saw in Deuce, I really liked seeing Fade go through his own.

What really made Outpost a standout for me was the background cast (especially getting to see Deuce grow into her family). I liked what happened with Tegan, and I liked that while she and Deuce are opposites in a lot of ways, Tegan has a lot of Deuce’s strength, even if she doesn’t show it in the same way.

Stalker, for me, was the biggest improvement from Enclave. I really appreciated the fact that his past wasn’t just glossed over. I also appreciated the fact that the world of Outpost is not the world of today (mostly safe and somewhat prosperous). It’s a morally complicated universe, and Stalker is the best reflection of that. He wants to change and improve, but can he ever really shake off a past when as dark as his? Part of me doesn’t think so. I still don’t like him. I still think that he is not and never was a serious love interest for Deuce. I still think that if he were to be eaten by a freak, I wouldn’t grieve much.

But I also think that he’s a reflection of Deuce’s struggles with her own humanity, and so I’m glad he played the part in this book he did. Does Deuce succumb to the base of society, where survival and power the only things that matter? Does she become Tegan, and turn her back on the outside dangers? Or can she find somewhere in the middle? It would be so easy to turn off her emotions and pick the perfect caveman-esque partner, a hunter with strength and physicality that she doesn’t have to feel anything for. She’s not struggling with liking Stalker, she’s struggling with the burden of all of the feelings she suddenly has for other people.

I was surprised that I liked this book so much. And the last line? Good lord. I need Horde, and I need it now. I can’t wait to see where Deuce’s journey takes her.

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