The Enclave by Karen Hancock
Upon receiving this book and reading the back cover synopsis, I really did not expect the story take the left turn that it did. The synopsis reads:
When Science Tries to Play God, Can One Man Summon the Courage to Stand in Its Way?
When Lacey McHenry accepts a prestigious research fellowship at the world-renowned Kendall-Jakes Longevity Institute, she sees it as a new start on life. But when a disturbing late-night encounter with a bizarre intruder leads to a cover-up by Institute authorities, she soon realizes all isn’t as it seems.
Caught in an elaborate game of deception and seduction, her only ally seems to be the brilliant but absent-minded geneticist, Cameron Reinhardt. A favorite of the Institute’s charismatic director, Cameron, too, came to K-J hoping to escape his past. But the more he learns about Lacey’s attacker, the more he fears that the past still pursues him.
Not certain they can trust each other, Cameron and Lacey reluctantly work together to uncover the shocking secrets that lurk behind the Institute’s respectable façade—secrets that turn out to be bigger, stranger, and far more dangerous than either of them could have imagined.
The Enclave is a classic story about driven scientists who pursue genetic engineering for the “betterment” of mankind. Cameron (“Cam”) Reinhardt is a brilliant scientist in the employ of Kendall-Jakes Longevity Institute. He is the sole professing Christian at the institute and is persecuted for his faith. He also has a history in military intelligence—the experience of which renders him helpless against flashbacks of the nightmare that he survived in Afghanistan.
Parker Swain is the director of the institute, the mastermind of its operations, and has a history of pursuing his goals via any means possible. Swain gets himself banned from receiving federal research money from the FDA, and in return he builds his own privately funded genetic engineering empire with the help of wealthy investors. The institute is based out of a large building shaped like a ziggurat in the deserts of Arizona, surrounded by large berms that hide the campus from most of the surrounding areas.
Also at the Institute is a new arrival, Lacey McHenry, hired as a research assistant. She has a Master’s degree and dreams of obtaining her doctorate. That dream seems out of reach until Parker Swain offers her an opportunity that seems too good to be true.
The final protagonist is a young man named Zowan who is a New Edenite living in the Enclave. In this bizarre underground world, residents are ruled by Elders and High Elders and worship Father. The outside world has apparently been scorched to become inhospitable and poisonous to life, and thus the Enclave has been established as a safe haven for its occupants. As Zowan’s friend Andros is punished for refusing to say the Affirmation—a daily affirmation of their eternal love and devotion to Father for saving them, Zowan is overwhelmed by a sense of injustice to his friend as well as his own guilt for planting the seed of doubt in Andros’s mind.
I really enjoyed reading this book and pondering the possibilities of scientific exploration and its effects on morality and judgment. The main characters were well defined. Each had deep histories with frequent reflection, and enough mystery was given about each character that the reader is driven to read further in order to put the pieces together. The environment is described in detail, allowing the reader to envision the hallways of the institute, the labs, the offices, as well as the surrounding areas outside the ziggurat’s walls. Two parallel storylines are followed for a good portion of the book, eventually converging and leading into the climax of the story. Let me address each of these aspects in more detail.
Not being a scientist, I cannot claim the authenticity of the scientific descriptions of conversations in the story. However they were all convincing to me and led to a credible plot. I also don’t have a military or intelligence background, but all of those details were generally convincing to me.
Cam’s faith in the midst of this environment was also convincing; in fact, it was inspiring! He has a rock solid faith that is supported by daily Scripture study—something that all Christians should aspire to. Lacey’s resignation of her faith reflects the experience of many faltering Christians. She has had a difficult life and has learned to cope without accepting the grace of God. She struggles to fit in at the institute until she “passes” her initiation, after which she is warmly accepted by her colleagues and promoted by the Director.
On the other hand, Cam has been at the institute for some time but has never been embraced by his associates, primarily due to his faith in God. He is regarded by many as an absent-minded and eccentric, yet brilliant scientist. All of the employees regularly mock him, and Cam suffers continual scorn from those in the Inner Circle.
The secondary characters are understandably less well defined but tend to have either good guy or bad guy characterizations.
The institute’s ziggurat-style main structure lends itself to mystery, and the barren desert of its campus adds the perfect touch. Karen Hancock creates a secretive scientific society that is more securely guarded and watched than a top-secret military compound. The campus’s retreat-type spa and other amenities are not described in much depth but are treated as ancillary locations in the story. Overall, the campus is shown to be a self-sustained environment, one which the employees rarely leave. In fact, in the timeframe of the story, Cam is the only character mentioned to take leave, and that is only for one day (Sunday). And he is followed by institute surveillance during the entire leave.
The parallel storylines create a mystique that continues for three-quarters of the book. The further along the story gets, the more the reader is able to make connections between the storylines. However, once the storylines converge, chaos ensues rapidly. Hancock does an excellent job at pacing the story and keeping the mysteries shrouded until the right moments. I was disappointed however that the end of the book was rather abrupt. I would have appreciated having a longer slope to the ending of the story, with some hope-filled directions for each of “good” characters and justice-oriented directions for the “bad” ones, than the sudden drop-off that was written instead. Not that it needs to end like a fairy-tale, but the book left a lot of loose ends. The ending was almost a brief summary of the characters getting out of their scrape, hinting at a future together, discussing the other characters verbally, and end.
Here are a few of my unanswered questions:
Was Frogeater Neos? Why was he eating frog legs? Was that something they ate in the Enclave? Why was Frogeater obsessed with Lacey? What was his motivation for breaking into the animal lab to begin with? Was it Neos just trying to learn more about the surface world?
How will the surviving Edenites be integrated into society? How are they processing the surface world? Why is one of the main characters, Zowan, brushed off at the end? What happened to his P.O.V.?
I truly enjoyed reading this book but also struggled with the issues noted above. Perhaps the book was rushed into publication or the editors did not pay enough attention to the flow of the story. I enjoy stories that leave me with food for thought, but the many loose endings in this story really put a damper on my ultimate enjoyment of the book. This story had a lot of potential, and it is unfortunate that that potential was not fulfilled.
I would recommend this book to others as a diversionary tale but would caution against expectations of a fulfilling adventure.