by Kit Reed
Review by Tom Easton
Tor Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765321619
Date: 03 February 2009 List Price $25.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Kit Reed, author of The Baby Merchant (Tor, 2006), does not write conventional science fiction or fantasy. You won't find her name on space operas, good or bad. Nor on quests festooned with elves, dragons, and kitty cats armed with assault rifles. She grapples with human pain of various kinds, efforts to ameliorate it, and how it can all go wrong. The pain in The Baby Merchant was that of childlessness. The titular character found babies and delivered them, for a price. He wasn't a very nice guy, but Reed brought him very much to life.
In Enclave, the pain is a little different, more abstract, if you will. Our world is at risk, with pollution, global warming, political conflict, new diseases, and more, frightening all who look at the news. There is also the pain felt by the rich whose children drink and drug and fornicate their way into the tabloids. So meet Sargent "Sarge" Whitemore, ex-Marine, thoroughly experienced at survival in-country. After a moment of illumination, he left the Marines and found an isolated, inaccessible island peak, Clothos, once home to a group of Benedictine monks. The monks are gone, died out, but the monastery remains along with Benny, a single aged lay brother. Sarge took over the island, brought in construction crews, and made over the monastery. Then he made his pitch to all those rich parents with problem kids. "Pay me a great big wad of cash," he said. "I'll put your kids in my hermetically sealed private school and keep them safe from their own tendencies to get into trouble and from the deteriorating world outside. Give me your kids, and I will save them."
Since he only has room for a hundred, he has to fight off hordes of parents waving fistsful of cash at him. But the day comes. He strips the kids of electronics and drugs and ferries them to the ex-monastery, where an alcoholic doctor is proving utterly useless, a physician's assistant who has loved Sarge since school days fills the gap, and assorted staff members are proving to have far too many past-rooted issues to make the school's success seem likely. But the kids settle down (perhaps with a bit of help from something in the food). And then there are rumors of a ghost in the halls. Two kids get into the locked computer room, go online, and open the door to a virus that irrevocably crashes every computer in the place. Benny turns out to be sheltering a sick stranger, and the kids start getting sick.
Sarge, for all his centrality, is a rather enigmatic fellow. Cassie, the PA, is easier to understand, as is the doctor who sobers up and starts searching for a cure. The heroes of the tale, however, are the kids. Killer Stade, who got in trouble by killing a teacher who tried to molest him (though no adult wanted to hear the story), quite rapidly accepts responsibility. In time, he turns his considerable intelligence to the virus. Other kids help in the infirmary. They grow up, and just in time, for the staff has turned into a mob of villagers out of Frankenstein, complete with pitchforks and torches.
The school winds up a disaster zone. Sarge's dream is in ashes. Sarge himself… Well, suffice it to say that he does indeed save the kids, though not in the way he intended.