Even before this summer's box office flop of The Lone Ranger, the issue of Native appropriation has haunted writers. Stereotype, thy name is Laura Ingalls Wilder's "savages," Twilight's fantastical sidekick, Jacob, and every other racially problematic representation of broken English speaking, nature-communing, peace-pipe smoking, peyote-tripping, Native character with a braid full of feathers.
So, it was with a little bit of trepidation that I received a copy of KILLER OF ENEMIES, by Joseph Bruchac. I mean, it sounded so typical: a story about an Apache girl being her tribe's designated killer of enemies... whose favorite weapon is .357 Magnum... and who survives in this post-apocalyptic landscape to serve her scarred and insane genetically modified leaders...
Um, wait. On second thought... not THAT typical...
Reader Gut Reaction: History had moved us past countries and states and into the future, where corporations bound territories together. New America, Euro-Russia and Afro-Asia are the way countries are divided now. Lozen is a low-tech hick, even before the silvery magnetic ball, larger than Earth's moon, comes from space and knocks out all communications, digital and electronics. Jets fall from the sky, life support machinery in hospitals die, and any computers, light bulbs, phones, and cars without the simplest combustion engines are kaput.
Before The Cloud, science was king, and its powers were a lure to the richest corporation owners. Called the Ones, these wealthy individuals modified their bodies and genetically enhanced their eyes and their brains - and, when they got bored, even their pets. Of course, once digital and electronic power ended, the Ones were fried in an instant, and the cages of those genetically modified pets opened wide... and a further hell was released. Humanity has crowded together for survival, but monsters are surrounding them - without and within - large, insane, and multiplying. A hike across country could find you the victim of a half tiger, half porcupine "genmod," who has been tracking you for miles. A bike ride on the last of the paved roads could end in you being carried off by a massive cross between a pterodactyl and a turkey vulture. Cities are slaughter grounds, and terrified humanity clings desperately to remnants of a social order which came from before. The Ones are gone - but the wannabes, who were cutthroat survivalists, not yet rich enough for full genetic modification but trying their hardest to social climb - they are all who are left. And with their position of power - and their armies of hired thugs - they rule Haven, the former Southwestern Penitentiary that Lozen now calls home.
Lozen's family, as have-nots, have always had no choice but to stay close to the simple life, thus Lozen can do things most people can't, like camping and living off the land, shooting an actual old gun, and using a Bowie knife. Her enthusiasm for these old-skool activities means that she's good at them, and can also run, fight, and climb. After the Cloud, Lozen's family moves far into the desert. As the world is in chaos,, the Sonoran desert offers La place to live cooperatively and peacefully. Together with members of their families and friends, they retreat from the madness. Unfortunately, the madness sends out scouts to find them... Three remaining Ones, having heard of Lozen's skills and kill rate with the monsters, have banded together to create a town, and Lozen's going to come and keep them safe. Of course, that's not what she wants - but after seeing those she loves gunned down in cold blood... that's her only choice.
Fast-paced, action-packed, and easy to get into, KILLER OF ENEMIES is a dystopian fantasy that flat-out erases the stereotypical "simple Native" tale in favor of a cold-eyed, sharp-shooting monster-killing menace, whose powers are freaking her out, but who is nonetheless DETERMINED to save her little corner of the world, and those she loves.
Concerning Character: Lozen was named for a long-ago relative who became vital to his people as their Killer of Enemies, and a hero remembered in story and song. While Lozen acts as a monster killer on behalf of the remaining Ones, her real focus in life is to GET OUT of Haven, spirit her family away, and hide. Danger is mounting. Outside the gates of Haven, the monsters she can see and kill aren't the worst thing. SOMETHING speaks to her - audibly - in her mind... and it calls her Little Food. Inside Haven, the guards are brutal and dismissive - and tend to grope her - and the psychopaths who run Haven are bickering and political. Each sees her as useful against the others - but possibly too useful, as she escapes scrape after scrape, each night coming back to Haven alive. They all want to use her, and they all want to use her up. Lozen's weakness - what's left of her family - has been used against her for the last time. She refuses to make other friends - that only endangers everyone. She's ready to take her life back, and take to the hills. But, although she's getting stronger with each kill, can her family keep up? Is there a way to save everyone precious to her?
Highly Recommended for Fans Of...: THE HOUSE OF THE SCORPION, Nancy Farmer; GRACELING, Kirsten Cashore; UGLIES, and sequels, Scott Westerfeld; LIFE AS WE KNEW IT, and sequels, Susan Beth Pfeffer; UNWIND, Neal Shusterman; PARTIALS, and sequels, Dan Wells; ALANNA, by Tamora Pierce; ENGLAVE, and sequels, Ann Aguire; BLOOD RED ROAD, Moira Young.
Themes & Things: This is essentially a superhero story with an Apache girl as the protagnoist. As a superhero, of course the Killer of Enemies has to be super-fast, super-strong, and super-tireless. Without romanticizing her because of her Native heritage, the author makes her real. What grounds the narrative is that Lozen, though super, is also often terrified, dirty, furious, and cold, has already lost people she loves, and ONLY survives because of the help of others. Not limited to being unrealistically strong and studly, she eventually allows other interests and concerns to change her game plan, and in the end, that turns out to be the best move she could have made.
This book received courtesy of the author and TU BOOKS. This September, 2013, you can find KILLER OF ENEMIES by Joseph Bruchac online, or at an independent bookstore near you!
X-posted at Finding Wonderland.