Book Review: “The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne” by Jonathan Stroud

Title: The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne
Author: Jonathan Stroud
Genre: Fantasy/Dystopia
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 10/12/2022 – 09/12/2022


Jonathan Stroud is one of my few insta-buy authors. I loved the Bartimaeus trilogy and I loved Lockwood and Co. (looking forward to the Netflix series in January!). But this book… I don’t know. I think I liked it? Hence the three stars. But it took so long to get through and I did feel a bit dissatisfied at the end.

I think the main problem was that Stroud didn’t give us enough of… anything, really.

We know that there was a “Cataclysm” and that it has broken up the UK into a series of walled “Surviving Towns”, but we don’t know what caused it. We know that it caused wild animals to turn into giant mutations of themselves, and created a race of cannibalistic sub-humans known as The Tainted, but that’s about the extent of our knowledge.

We know a bit about how various religious faiths throughout the world have sort of amalgamated into one big Faith and religious authoritarianism is huge. We know that Scarlett lost someone, possibly to one of these Faith Houses but we don’t know anything about who it was, or the circumstances.

Being a closed book is a huge part of Scarlett’s character, but it does make it hard to get invested in her. All we really see is the bravado she puts on. As she starts to warm towards Albert, we get past the exterior a little bit, but I think a bit more was needed.

Albert, tbough, is an open book and such an interesting character. He’s been raised in an abusive environment, and up until the events of the book, has never been outside the walls of that environment. He is so naïve but so genuine, though his upbringing has taught him to be sneaky in some ways. I really loved his development throughout the story.

I am intrigued enough to read the second book. I do wonder if the first book was a whole lot of set-up and the next book will be more interesting. But I’m going to get it from the library.

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“Without the threat of suffering, we can’t experience true joy.” // Review of “Scythe” by Neal Shusterman

Title: Scythe (Arc of a Scythe #1)
Neal Shusterman
Genre: Dystopia
Target audience: YA
Date Read: 26/03/20 – 01/04/20


Hmmm…. I don’t actually know where to start with this book. I liked it! Don’t get me wrong. I just… wasn’t entirely convinced by the world it was set in, which meant I struggled to believe why some of the events would take place.

Just a note that this review will probably be kind of spoilery because I’m picking apart a few things. So read on at your own risk.

One of my main qualms with the story was the idea that humanity has given its power over to an all-knowing AI called The Thunderhead, which came into being when the cloud developed self-awareness. The narration kept mentioning how Thunderhead was the sum of all human knowledge and that humanity now “knew all there was to know” and that “there was nothing left to learn” and I just… how did they know that? Did the Thunderhead tell them so and they just accepted it?

And while was acknowledged that perfect lives with no threats to existence lead to lives of complacency and drudgery, no one ever felt like they ought to do anything about it, which I found a bit frustrating.

I never really felt attached to either of the main characters. They had no chemistry and their romance felt like an afterthought… apart form an initial spark of attraction, I never felt like there was much chemistry. To be honest, I spent most of the book wishing I was reading about Scythe Faraday and Scythe Curie at the very beginning of the post-mortality age. That would have interested me a lot more. Even Goddard, who was a pretty 2D villain, would have been interesting to see in the early stages of his career as a Scythe.

Sometimes the pacing was odd and what should have been important events, such as Citra’s name being cleared of murder, happened off-screen. I’m not necessarily saying the book should have been longer; it’s already 450 pages. But the focus felt like it was sometimes on the wrong thing.

Phew. Okay. Yes, so far this reads more like a 2 star review than a 3.5… so why the higher rating? Well, I really did love Faraday and Curie, and the more I found about them, the more I liked them. Flouting the Scythe Commandments in the way they did and the ramifications got me quite invested in their story. As I said, that’s what I have would have liked to have read, more so than Citra and Rowan’s… training montage? (Also I will admit I am sucker for a good forbidden romance and I felt there was more to this one than to Citra and Rowan’s).

And regardless of how I felt about the plot, there is no doubt that Neal Shusterman can write. I found this when I read another of his YA dystopias, Unwind, in 2016. There’s a scene in that book that I can still imagine vividly, despite the years and the many books that have passed. That doesn’t happen to me very often.

And Scythe was similar. There’s a visceral quality to the descriptions. You really feel like you’re there. And I was in that strange place I sometimes end up in with books where I wasn’t that interested in the characters but I still wanted to know how everything turned out. The book has a really strong ending. I know this is a trilogy but it almost stands on its own, just as Unwind did, despite being first in a series.

Will I continue with the series? Haven’t decided yet. I have put a reserve on my library’s copy of the audio book, but it’s not available for three months. By then I might not be so worried, but it’s on my list for now. It is possible that now that the first book has set everything up and Citra and Rowan have completed their training, the second and third books will really get going and I will find them more engaging. That’s something I’ll definitely bear in mind.

P. S. Since I mentioned it so much, here’s my review of Unwind from 2016.

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#LoveOzYA #aww2019 “Within me, the truth unfurled, opening as a flower. I breathed as if for the first time.” // Review of “Hive” by A. J. Betts

Title: Hive (Hive #1)
A. J. Betts
Genre: Dystopia
Target audience: YA
Date Read: 22/03/19 – 25/03/19


This was one of those books that I was fairly sure I wasn’t really into, but the ending was satisfying enough that I want to know what happens in the next book. 

This is a slow-moving book and I guess I was expecting something a bit faster. The blurb led me to think that once Hayley found an anomaly in the culty/dystopian world they live in, things would unravel quite quickly. But they don’t really. Instead, Hayley tries to find answers within her community but thinks she’s slowly going mad for the majority of the book.

The world-building is definitely a strong point here. The way people were assigned roles within the community and the history of how it was established was all very solid. I was confused about how they had a forest when they were supposed inside a self-contained building but I may have missed something that explained that.

Hayley and her best friend, Celia, were definitely the strongest characters. I loved that they had created a whole language of signals tapped out on the other’s hands so they could communicate secretly. The Son (of the Judge) became a bit more fleshed out towards the end. There was also a sweet character called Luka who I wanted to give a hug because he reminded me of a young Luka I know and how he would probably react in the same circumstances.

As I said, this definitely picked up for me in the last few chapters and by the end, I found myself wanting to know how things were going to pan out. While this isn’t my favourite book, I will still pick up Rogue at some point when it comes out.

This review is part of my 2019 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

I am trying to read as many of the books as possible on the 2019 Children’s Book Council of Australia Notables List. Click here to see the titles.

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