The Safe Lands are many, many things. Safe is not one of them. Visitors must try hard and diligently not to contract the thin plague. Everyone is studiously tracked by the governing authorities, who live by the principle of three strikes and you’re out. Permanently.
And those who manage to make it to forty are liberated, though no one knows what this means beyond “never is seen again”.
Outcasts is the follow-up to Captives, the first book in the Safe Lands series – YA books written by Jill Williamson. I concluded after reading Captives that it was, as one of the characters said of the Safe Lands, fascinating but discouraging; I hoped that, having established the libertine dissolution of the Safe Lands, the series would move on a bit.
And it has. Oh, the Safe Lands are as libertine and dissolute as ever, but there is not so much effort at portraying it, not so much effort at bringing the mores of Glenrock into collision with the mores of the Safe Lands. Everything is more settled in the second book. The characters know better now where they are and where they stand; they’re moving on into the fighting.
Still, revelations continue. The most striking thing about this series is the level of world-building. So complete, so realistic, and so complex is the world of the Safe Lands that the story naturally peels layer off of layer. The made-up slang – so easily a stumbling block in books like this – is one of the most memorable and enjoyable elements of the world-building.
The characters, too, are rounded and complicated. The villains are usually not sympathetic, and the heroes are not always likable – parenthetical statement for those who have read the book: Levi, I’m looking at you – but they seem like real people.
I have a couple criticisms (beware of spoilers): Omar’s final, big fall – the kiss with Kendall and vaping afterward – was unnecessary. I don’t think it made any real difference to the plot, and with the similar incidents earlier in the story, it contributed little to Omar as a character. I didn’t see the point. For that matter, I didn’t see the point of the whole Kendall/Omar/Shaylinn love triangle.
More spoilers: I could not see Otley’s motivation for killing Rewl when he knew that it was the brothers who had led the girls away. And I wouldn’t even mention it here except that that shooting became the basis for a crucial turning point. The climax pivoted, ultimately, on Otley’s decision to shoot Rewl, but the decision is too weak to support such a pivot.
Outcasts is a first-class dystopia – realistic characters in a riveting but believable world that brings all sorts of ideas into play against each other. I am planning to continue with the Safe Lands series; this is a world still to be explored – beginning with what, exactly, it means to be liberated.
In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.