Whenever I start yet another YA post-apocalyptic-dystopian-fiction, I am prepared for one of two reactions: delight, or disappointment. Unfortunately, at the moment, disappointment seems to be the most common reaction as each new book feels like a clone of the previous one, with no new ideas and – usually – no good writing to set it apart. Occasionally, however, a book will come along that is completely original and unique, with a clear and distinct voice that sets it apart from the others in the genre. The Hunger Games was one of these anomalies, with Marie Lu’s Legend and (especially) Julianna Baggott’s Pure continuing the trend of being unexpected delights. Reading yet another, new YA post-apocalyptic-dystopian-fiction book by an unknown author is, therefore, a bit of a gamble – will this one be a let down, or a contender for book of the year?
Even a week or so after finishing Enmity, the debut novel by New Zealand/Australian author E.J Andrews, I still have no idea which of those categories it fits into. Set on a damaged Earth, decades after a solar flare has turned almost everything to dust and left the shrunken population fighting to recover, Enmity begins with a few unusually gritty sequences of character introduction. Hermia and Nate are torn from their lives and thrown into a new, even more terrifying existence as they are forced into training as assassins to protect the new world order. They both have secrets that could impact their own safety, as well as the success of their mission.
So far, this sounds like a fairly typical entry into YA dystopia, right? In fact, a lot of the book manages to rise above typicality as some of the plot is carried off fantastically well. Andrew’s writing is skillful, and she clearly gets across a sense of unease and tension as the teenagers are put through increasingly dangerous, difficult tasks. Where it gets confusing is in the pacing of the story. Half the time I found myself flicking back through chapters to work out what I missed, only to find that I had in fact missed nothing. New information is thrown in all the time with no warning, and there are many parts where it feels as though entire chapters have been skipped as the plot starts to make less and less sense. This, coupled with a few frustrating cases of “insta-love” and some rather bizarre character developments, made the whole reading experience rather jarring.
In Enmity’s good moments, I kept being reminded of Ella West’s rather underrated 2006 novel Thieves. Perhaps there really is something different about New Zealand-written fiction, because there is a uniqueness of tone that I haven’t come across before in writing from other countries. The faults in this book are a huge disappointment because of its great promise – it’s almost as though Andrews simply lost control of her story in places. With time, and a little refinement, I think her writing could become a serious contender in the YA market. I just don’t think it’s quite there yet.