Review: Outlawed by Anna North

Buy it here: Amazon, Bookshop

Synopsis:

The Crucible meets True Grit in this riveting adventure story of a fugitive girl, a mysterious gang of robbers, and their dangerous mission to transform the Wild West.

In the year of our Lord 1894, I became an outlaw.

The day of her wedding, 17 year old Ada’s life looks good; she loves her husband, and she loves working as an apprentice to her mother, a respected midwife. But after a year of marriage and no pregnancy, in a town where barren women are routinely hanged as witches, her survival depends on leaving behind everything she knows.

She joins up with the notorious Hole in the Wall Gang, a band of outlaws led by a preacher-turned-robber known to all as the Kid. Charismatic, grandiose, and mercurial, the Kid is determined to create a safe haven for outcast women. But to make this dream a reality, the Gang hatches a treacherous plan that may get them all killed. And Ada must decide whether she’s willing to risk her life for the possibility of a new kind of future for them all.

Featuring an irresistibly no-nonsense, courageous, and determined heroine, Outlawed dusts off the myth of the old West and reignites the glimmering promise of the frontier with an entirely new set of feminist stakes. Anna North has crafted a pulse-racing, page-turning saga about the search for hope in the wake of death, and for truth in a climate of small-mindedness and fear. 

Review:

This is one of the first books of the year that I bought and read as something different than my normal books. I do not know much about a contemporary, feminist western, but my biggest reason for getting this book is the cover. The bright pink, blue and yellow really drew my eye, and I did one of those “why not” shrugs and gave it a whirl. I did judge this book by the cover, and I was rewarded for my shallowness. 

The story centers around the Hole in the Wall Gang, a group of thieves who live in the mountains and are dangerous as can be. Led by The Kid, a preacher turned outlaw leader, the gang is small but each one has a different specialty, and they all have something deeper in common. The beginning of the novel starts with Ava, seventeen years old, married, and trying to conceive a child. To be barren in 1894 makes you at best someone to divorce and throw away but at worst a witch who deserves to be hanged. The story of Ava mixes quickly with the Hole in the Wall Gang, and eventually it turns into a novel about group dynamics and survival.

I loved the way that this book is written. All of the chapters have definitive starts and stops. Point A to Point B, then reset. Every chapter contains so much time, plot and character development that every one of them can be an entire book instead of a chapter. Anna North does not summarize the plot as much as only tells the parts that are needed to be told to make the story clear, fast paced, and engaging.  The first three chapters of this book particularly could be taught as a way to write a large amount of time in a short amount of space. Another writing thing that I noticed and loved is how many times Ada described how she is feeling by remembering how her sisters and her interacted when she was still at home. The way that North uses this device, as if Ada’s family is really one of the only experiences that she can draw on so she uses them as much as she can to understand what was happening, is done expertly and with sharp precision. The writing in this book and the way that the plot is laid out and executed is worth reading on it’s own.

The actual story though. I have read a few westerns in my life, some Louis L’Amour when I was a kid and Elmore Leonard when I was older, and this does fit into the traditional outlaw western. Plotting crimes, running from the law, and having a shootout are all things that make this like a traditional western, but all of the characters make for more of a modern novel. The mixture of both makes this plot-driven like a traditional western but also character heavy like contemporary fiction. Many of the characters do not get the spotlight like the Kid and Ava, but all of them are born out of tragic circumstances, and it is known that the Hole in the Wall Gang is really the only family that each one of them has. For as entertaining as it is for a western, it is as heartbreaking as a character study.

I enjoyed this novel, and it is a great start to the reading year. I have already been recommending it to everyone I know who reads. “Outlawed” is a great experience, and I am glad that this cover caught my eye.  

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