Review: Outlawed, by Anna North
A bit of an interesting one, this - I'm writing this review about a week after finishing this book, and I find that the week of reflection has helped settle the way I think about it to a certain extent.
This story is a bit of a mishmash of genres: it's a dystopian retelling of a Western, in a world that looks a bit like historical fiction but isn't. There was a great pandemic that wiped out loads of people (didn't that feel prescient, Anna), and now infertility in women is punishable by hanging or burning at the stake, because obviously infertile women are witches. Ada, our narrator, is married for two years without a baby, so she runs away first to a convent, and then to join a gang of outlaws (read: women who ran away from awful situations) led by a mercurial, charismatic figure called the Kid (yes, it's obviously a play on Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, but the name is literally as far as the resemblance goes).
There were parts of this book that I liked, but the totality of the story felt a bit unfinished and immature - the Kid as a character never felt fully fleshed out, as if Anna Morris decided they were meant to be mercurial and changeable, and that was it, that was the entirety of their personality. I also find myself getting a bit skeeved out by anybody who is painted as even the slightest bit of a zealot, and the Kid definitely came across as a fanatic rather than a leader that people would willingly trust and follow with their lives. Another drawback of the characterization is that the main characters (the Kid, Ada the narrator, Texas, Lark) are given attempts at full personalities and decided character traits, and all the other characters in the novel are flimsy, paper-thin stock characters that don't seem to exist in the minds of either the narrator, the reader or the author when they're not on the page.
Dialogue was clunky too.
And the pacing of the novel felt a bit weird - the set-up at the start of the novel was long and dragged, and then the climax was spread over enough pages that the stakes and the momentum of it felt lost, and the resolution was rushed and felt messy.
All of that said, I did enjoy this book to an extent - the mishmash of genres and the surreality of a lot of the story made for an enjoyable reading experience, and I liked how Ada stayed true to her dream and her sense of self throughout the story, even as she grew as a person. Anna North attempted to tackle a lot of themes, as well, including some that aren't as popular or fashionable, which I liked and think more authors should attempt to do - although I do still think that the book would have benefitted from maybe cutting one or two of those and giving the central theme space to breathe and develop a bit more fully and a bit more naturally.
So, all told, I did enjoy this book - but I don't think it's a very strong novel, and I don't think it'll live very much longer in my mind. I would like to see how Anna North as an author develops, however.