CSFF Blog Tour: Apples and Barrels

Among the true-to-life complexities of Jill Williamson’s Safe Lands series is the diversity of the motley opposition against the Safe Lands government.

There are the people of Glenrock and Jack’s Peak, who were dragged into the city and fell into the war quite haplessly. If the Safe Lands had left them alone, they would have left it alone.

There is the Freedom for Families, comprised principally of Naturals – an underground society that has existed within the shadows almost from the beginning. Theirs is a quiet rebellion.

There is the Black Army – full of disgruntled Safe Landers who, born and bred in the system, now want out.

And there are those without organization, whose need drives them away from normal life in the Safe Lands.

There is an equal diversity of motivations. All Jordan and Levi really care about is taking care of their own. Anything and anybody else? Not their problem.

Mason, though also from Glenrock, has some concern for the Safe Landers themselves, some desire to help them – though it understandably receives a lot of impetus from the fact that he’s falling in love with a Safe Lander. So, too, with Omar: He looks beyond Glenrock to the Safe Lands, his altruism and his self-interest all mixed together. But what he is seeking for himself in these efforts is peace, a place to belong, his own identity.

Bender and Rewl, of the Black Army, seem primarily concerned for themselves – as does Red, who dismisses the government taking a woman’s baby with the words, “I don’t like the government telling me what to do. But babies aren’t my interest.”

Look, I found a libertarian in the Black Army!

Levi, by the way, disclaimed concern for the same baby and mother. He just didn’t bother to articulate his reasons so clearly.

But the Black Army has its noble ones, too. So does the Freedom for Families – people who are not content merely to hide and enjoy their escape, but who have compassion on those still caught in the dark web, whether the difficult elders of Glenrock or the lost souls of the Safe Lands.

I can’t name the bad apples among the FFF, but that’s only because we have seen little of them. As the human heart is always struggling between love and selfishness, and often wrapping them together in the most ingenuous of ways, so every community is made of bad and good. The purest causes draw impure votaries, and unworthy causes have been known to net worthy followers.

Because – for good and for bad, for better or for worse – that’s the way people are.

CSFF Blog Tour: Outcasts

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.

CSFF Blog Tour: Dystopia

Today the CSFF blog tour begins its tour of Outcasts, the second book in Jill Williamson’s dystopian Safe Lands series.

Dystopian is in now; you don’t need to look any further than The Hunger Games to know it, and if you look anyway, you’ll see Divergent. YA dystopian is especially in. This has naturally led to all sorts of rumination about dystopias, trends, literary darkness, and teenagers.

Some people attribute the increasing darkness of YA fiction to the increasing darkness of the world around us. In our era of terrorism, school shootings, economic decline and political dysfunction, dystopia is either a dark mirror or a dark comfort. (“Well, America might be unraveling into a social, political, and economic mess – but hey, it could be worse.”)

I wonder about this explanation. The images we swim in might be darker and darker – and someone out there must like it, when you consider how much of the darkness is manufactured in Hollywood for our entertainment – but is the world itself darker? Is our modern experience so much grimmer that it darkens our imagined worlds to match?

At the end of the 1930s, Americans were marking a decade and counting of economic depression, while watching other nations topple into the second world war in twenty-five years. Somehow it didn’t set off lucrative trends into dark stories.

I have no firm theory or settled opinion on the matter, and surely the real explanation is complex and multifactored. And whatever the precise reasons behind the current popularity of dystopias, the essential idea is an old one and is still a compelling way to examine ideas. On that thought, here are the links to

Outcasts on Amazon;

Jill Williamson’s website;

and the blog tour:

Red Bissell
Thomas Fletcher Booher
Beckie Burnham
Pauline Creeden
April Erwin

Victor Gentile

Ryan Heart
Timothy Hicks
Jason Joyner

Julie Bihn
Carol Keen
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Melanie @ Christian Bookshelf Reviews
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Joan Nienhuis
Nissa
Jalynn Patterson
Writer Rani
Chawna Schroeder
Jacque Stengl

Jojo Sutis
Steve Trower
Phyllis Wheeler
Deborah Wilson