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Friday, July 25, 2014

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Book Review: Killer of Enemies

I’d been eyeing Killer of Enemies by Joseph Bruchac for quite a while. A story of a badass Native American girl in a post-apocalyptic America? Yeah, I could get behind that. Now that I’ve finally read it, my only regret is that I waited so long. This story has all the trappings of a dystopian novel—a vaguely familiar futuristic landscape, regressed technology, an oppressed society cowering under the gaze of a totalitarian government, and unflinching brutality—presented in a fresh light and with a solid helping of scary creatures, gritty fights, and humor.
After the sudden appearance of a silvery mass in the sky known as The Cloud, all electricity ceases to function and sends the United States into the Dark Ages. With massive gemods (genetically modified monstrosities) prowling the deserts of the southwest, humanity takes refuge in Haven, which is as much a prison as it is a sanctuary for Lozen and her family. She is the Killer of Enemies, tasked with the job of killing gemods that might threaten Haven, and luckily her Chiracahua Apache upbringing and supernatural senses make her well-suited to the job. But there are other enemies, even worse than the gemods, watching her every move: “The Ones” who rule Haven with armed guards and their own eccentric whims. This is the real threat that Lozen has been preparing to go up against, to save her mother and two siblings and finally escape Haven, if she can stay alive long enough.

You’d expect a story with such high stakes to be fast-paced, but it is not. It is contemplative, the plot moving forward quietly and cautiously, much like Lozen does herself when she’s out on the hunt. I was surprised by how quickly I fell into the story, because it’s been a rather long time since I’ve experienced the pure enjoyment of a well-told tale.

What makes the book sing is the voice (wait, was that a pun? Darn it). Told in first person, the dark tone of the novel is peppered with Lozen’s occasional quips and corny jokes; even with her situation so hopeless, she keeps a firm grip on her sense of humor. She has also grown up with a loving family and has absorbed their knowledge of wilderness survival and her people’s folklore. Occasionally Lozen recounts the fascinating tales she's heard from her parents and uncle; these moments are important, as the lessons she’s learned from these stories get her out of several sticky situations.

That’s another thing: Lozen has not only her physical strength and her extrasensory perception, but a quick mind. She thinks ahead and uses her environment to her advantage. It’s no wonder she’s able to single-handedly bring down gemods whose size and ferocity border on prehistoric, and its no wonder her superiors watch her closely. Lozen is dangerous, and the only advantage they hold over her is her family; she slays the beasts, and they stay alive.

Part wilderness survival saga, the land outside of Haven is alive with interesting creatures. There are several types of gemods, each a lethal mix of animal traits, only on a large scale. A giant cat covered in porcupine quills; buzzards the size of pterodactyls; a massive super snake. Also lurking in the desert are more ancient, mythical monsters; the Bloodless, maneaters somewhere between a zombie and a vampire, and a Sasquatch who only appears when Lozen least suspects it.

I found it interesting just how little Lozen actually speaks. She is a guarded person, and most her personality is conveyed through the narrative rather than dialogue. She has only a few friends with which we’re able to see her in her more vulnerable moments: her mother and little brother and sister, the remnants of her family; Guy, the arms specialist who she trusts completely; and Hussein, a young gardener and musician. They are all endearing members of Lozen's inner circle, but the most surprising, and my personal favorite was Hally. I found him infinitely fascinating and charming, and he really brings the story together in the end.

There’s something of a romance between Hussein and Lozen, which was my only hiccup. It’s such a small element in the book that it feels like an afterthought, like it was written in because it’s a YA story about a girl, and people expect YA stories about girls to have romance. I’m perfectly fine with it not being the focus, but then I wonder if it even needs to be there at all? All the same, Hussein is a sweetheart, so their budding relationship isn’t terribly off-putting.

Killer of Enemies is not fast-paced or hopelessly bleak, and those qualities alone make it a refreshing read among the popular dystopian tales of today. Also, Lozen gets a high-five for being a fan of The Wiz. You’ve got good tastes, girl. This book is well worth the read, and I feel like a sequel is required. I have questions about the Dreamer.

Title: Killer of Enemies

Author: Joseph Bruchac

Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction

Recommendation: Yes

Best Reader Audience: Pre-teens, teens, and adults

Final Rating: 5 out of 5 dozy foxes

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