By: Anna North
On her wedding day, 17-year-old Ada has everything she could want in life; she loves her husband, and she loves working as an apprentice to her mother, a respected midwife. However, Ada’s dreams are soon dashed when she can’t get pregnant in her first year of marriage. 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. Such a dream requires great sacrifice on the part of the bandits and their victims, and Ada will play a key role in executing a treacherous plan that may get them all killed.
Outlawed has an interesting premise with a main character reminiscent of The Handmaid’s Tale in that she’s fiercely determined and completely unstoppable in her convictions. This story also takes place in an alternate history where pregnancy and childbirth are everything to society. Barren women are lucky if they are only thrown out of their homes since they are often executed as witches for supposedly cursing other women out of spite. Men are almost never accused of misconduct.
The driving force for the plot is that nothing ever goes according to plan for Ada. The reader really gets to know Ada as a person while many of the other characters felt one-dimensional, running together in a kind of character soup. I had a hard time keeping backstories straight for most of the secondary characters because many of the Hole in the Wall Gang had nearly carbon copy personalities. This aspect was the largest detractor for me since I want characters to feel like different people rather than caricatures separated by race or sexuality. Token diversity is a huge problem in many books, but I can appreciate how the author tried to use diversity to draw parallels to our own society. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but it worked.
Some parts of the narrative might seem cheesy or heavily foreshadowed, but I was still pleasantly surprised by some twists in the story. There’s solid LGBT representation including topics of gender fluidity and non-binary characters which is awesome for readers who struggle to find that kind of relatability in books. Outlawed perfectly encapsulates how there will always be outliers in societies attempting to enforce strict gender rolls and that those outliers will work to change the world. Change doesn’t happen overnight and it’s sometimes messy, but it will happen.
While a warning should definitely be given to readers who have had their own struggles with pregnancy, I would still recommend Outlawed. The heart of the story focuses on women supporting women when the rest of the world would leave them behind.
I can appreciate Anna North for what she was trying to accomplish in Outlawed. While I can’t give it 5-stars, I can still recommend the story to lovers of other alternative history centered on women. The ending had me choking up which means if you too are a sentimental sap, you’ll probably enjoy the book.
Overall rating: 4