The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne

Knopf. Oct. 2021. 432p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780593430361.
Gr 6 Up–An adventurous fantasy set in an alternate England, after calamities have transformed it into guarded cities with generators and basic commerce surrounded by deadly wilderness and large predators—not to mention the Tainted, who are zombie cannibals. All religions have merged into Faith Houses, which are a significant but not salubrious presence. Enter cutthroat outlaw Scarlett McCain, described as pale-skinned with red hair, who robs banks for a living. Her backstory is mysterious, but she has no love for the Surviving Towns or for Faith Houses. Traveling the wilderness she finds a boy in an abandoned bus, Albert Browne, with pale skin and black hair. He has his own enemies, and Scarlett agrees to help him try to reach the Free Isles near London. They team up with a riverboat pilot, Joe, who has dark skin, and his pale-skinned granddaughter Ettie to make the journey. Stroud combines detailed, deliberate, and evocative descriptions of the wasteland once known as England with a fast-paced plot. Continuous escapes and fight scenes build tons of excitement and at times spine-tingling horror. Scarlett’s frustration with the more friendly, naive Albert is often hilarious, as is her ability to talk or shoot herself out of a tough corner. Some loose ends in Scarlett and Albert’s backstories seem to indicate the series will continue.
VERDICT Intricate worldbuilding and a compelling heroine will appeal to readers who like “Rick Riordan Presents,” as well as the works of Philip Pullman and Garth Nix.

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