Looking for a British Western set in a post-apocalyptic world, preferably with a sassy heroine and some terrifying hijinks? If so, you have very specific requests! But look no further than Jonathan Stroud’s latest Young Adult novel, The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne. Even if you’re not looking for that very particular genre of novel, this is a book you should definitely look at picking up. It’s gripping from start to finish.
What Is The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne?
The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne is set at some unspecified point in the future. The Britain outlined in the novel is recognizable, to a native at least, but massively changed from the one that exists now. London is largely underwater. Technology is present, but is more reminiscent of that found in a simpler time. Resources are scarce, motor vehicles exist but are not commonplace. Towns are little islands of stability in a hostile ocean. The wilderness is full of bandits and worse; evolution has seen the rise of horrific and deadly wild animals. There’s even a tribe of supernatural cannibals, “The Tainted,” who terrified this reader, let alone the characters in the book.
As the novel opens we are introduced to Scarlett McCain, an outlaw. As I said at the top of the review, the novel has a very “western” feel. There’s a low-tech vibe (with pistols being the main weapons), lawless hinterlands, and law enforcement in towns is largely carried out by bowler-hatted Sherrif types. It’s all very “Gunfight at the OK Corral.” So much so, that it’s hard to remember the novel is meant to be set in a green and pleasant land. Not that this England is pleasant anymore.
Scarlett begins the story surrounded by the dead. Bodies that she helped traverse the thin line between life and death. After that, she enters a town, robs a bank, and makes an audacious escape. We immediately realize she’s a sassy anti-hero with a fast tongue and a quicker draw. After taking her leave with the bank’s money, Scarlett encounters the scene of a bus crash. Cowering in a locked toilet cubicle she discovers Albert Browne. A gangly innocent, who will only last 5 minutes with night closing in. In spite of herself, Scarlett takes Albert under her wing, only to discover there is considerably more to him than she could ever have imagined.
Why Read The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne?
2021 is shaping up to be a great reading year for me. Every book I’ve picked up so far has been excellent. The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne continues this trend. I’ll definitely be poking it under the nose of my 15-year-old, as I think he’ll love it. I still need to get around the problem that if dad likes it, it must be lame, but I’ll get there.
The pacing of the book is exceptional. It’s continually exciting, with fresh revelations coming thick and fast, whether they be about the plot, characters, or setting. The action scenes are tense, gripping, and keep adding to our understanding of the world in which our characters live. The interaction between Scarlett and Browne is excellent. Scarlett is a fairly typical tough loner with a heart of gold. She can’t help but like the fish-out-of-water Albert Browne. There is considerably more to Albert than meets the eye and his journey of self-discovery forms the spine of the story.
Religion plays a significant part in both the world-building and the driving of the plot. In a world where technology is minimal, superstition is rife. Much like earlier periods in world history, religion writes the rule of law. Intolerance to others, borne out of fear, is prevalent in this borderline feudal world. Stroud’s portrayal of religion is interesting. Each town has a “Faith House,” but these houses of worship are non-denominational; they promote freedom of religion.
Belief in any aspect of religion is accepted. So at the Faith House, you’ll find tenets and practices from Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, and others. Observers are free to practice whichever elements they wish. Nevertheless, fealty to the Faith House is expected and deviation from the accepted norm is not tolerated. Punishment for not conforming is swift and brutal. In a world ravaged by a hinted at but never explained ecological disaster, mutation and disease are common. Discovery by the Faith House is usually fatal.
I would probably only give The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne to more mature readers. I found it genuinely unsettling in places. There are some great suspenseful moments, and certain scenes could definitely be made into an R-rated horror movie. That said, there is nothing overly graphic or sensitive in theme. It just is a masterclass in suspense and tension, with gruesome monsters thrown in.
As well as all the action and suspense, there is a deeply human side to the novel too. Humanity is hanging on by a thread in this blighted England but compassion and empathy still exist. This is a rough world, but good exists within it.
I very much enjoyed reading The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne. It is most definitely a stand-alone novel, complete and satisfying. Is there scope for more adventures in the same world featuring some of the same characters? Absolutely. Would I read such a follow-up? Just try to stop me. Before that though, I will probably check out some more novels by Jonathan Stroud. His absence from our family bookshelves feels a little like criminal neglect, and I don’t want to get into trouble with the Faith House…
Don’t just take my word for it. The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne was reviewed in last month’s Between the Bookends.
If you’d like to pick up a copy of The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne, you can do so here, in the US and here, in the UK. These are both for the UK edition. It looks like the book will be officially published in the US in October. (Affiliate Links)
If you enjoyed this review, do check out my other book reviews on GeekDad.
This review is also part of a wider blog tour. Do check out the other great content about Scarlett and Browne, including some great writing tips from Jonathan Stroud, right here on GeekDad. (Available from 2nd April).
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in order to write this review.