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5.0 out of 5 starsThe world that was...
Reviewed in the United States on March 5, 2021
The domed city of Dios is one of the supposed last five remaining cities on Earth in this action-packed dystopian debut from Tyler Edwards. The premise is reminiscent of similar franchises (a crossover of Hunger Games and Equilibrium came to mind) but it is the world-building and characterization that sets Edwards' work apart. The protagonist Jett Lasting has an origin tale that reminded me of a certain Gotham City billionaire, and it is through his eyes that we see a holy city on the edge of rebellion against the Patriarch who seek to keep the world from reverting back to one of individualism. It's a stark revelation that perhaps our own world isn't so far from the one which Edwards has created, and the feeling that anything can change in an instant remains right on the doorstep of the first in this promising new saga (trilogy?) filled with intrigue, bonds of friendship, betrayal, and a "MacGuffin" on par with the ending of The Force Awakens. Outlands is a brisk, fun read, and highly recommended!
I don't often go for dystopian stories, but I'm glad I was persuaded to give this a try. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I ended up enjoying something on the fringes of my comfort zone. I admit that it did take me some time to become fully invested, but by the time I reached chapter 10, I was pretty hooked. I won't summarize the premise as I think there are enough reviews that have done that well enough. Instead I want to focus on the areas that I felt worked best for me.
Throughout the story, I was impressed with the world building. It came across as very thought through with class distinctions and groupings based on one's occupation or role in society, a government that intertwines religion with a type of imperialism, and history all blended together in a way that brought this world to life. While there are aspects that feel familiar to our own world, enough unique elements were added to set this apart. One of the standout features to me was the use of slang that fits the experiences and realities of the people living in this city. It doesn't come across as gimmicky and feels quite natural to the dialogue. I really appreciated the effort put forth in this area.
As with any book I read, it's the characters that really determine my personal level of enjoyment and these were pretty outstanding. Jett and Victor seem to be clear favorites among other readers and I definitely get their appeal. Victor is incredibly clever yet not arrogant about his abilities. Meanwhile Jett serves as our guide and window to the world and people living within it. He's a skilled thief whose quips bring in some humor to the story. I particularly enjoyed seeing his growth over the course of the book. However, my favorites were Becka and Spike. Becka first caught my attention by the way she demonstrated concern for the well-being of others. She shows great dedication to her beliefs and I love the way she stands up for herself when others attempt to dismiss her. Her fierceness and sass made her someone I felt immediately drawn to. Then there was Spike. He had so many great lines - some of which I think belong on a t-shirt or coffee mug. 😂 But more than that, I love that he is a character who adheres to his personal morals when life would be so much easier for him if he went against them. I found him so admirable and a very respectable role model.
Unfortunately, not all of the side characters were given a chance to shine as much as I would like, but I see a lot of potential for future expansion. That being said, I was pleased with the "found family" element. I loved seeing each of the relationships between Jett and the other characters. While some are deeper than others, there's a real sense of how much they care about each other. It was refreshing to see these meaningful connections without introducing unnecessary romantic aspects.
Speaking of romance, I wasn't crazy about the one that was included here. In some ways, I wish the time spent developing the relationship between these two had been allocated to fleshing out the more neglected characters. Plus the individuals were great on their own and would have been better off remaining friends. There is always room for more well written stories about male/female friendships.
I was completely caught off guard by the sheer number of antagonists and dangers that our characters have to deal with throughout the story. I never knew who could be trusted so there was always a sense of foreboding anytime the main characters got tangled up in a new situation. The uneasiness I felt really fed into how invested I was in the story. There were so many moments where they'd transition from one peril to another and it was often difficult to determine which was worse.
Even though I'm not a huge fan of action scenes, these were actually quite enjoyable and written in a way that was well paced and adequately described so that I could clearly picture what was happening. Several plot twists - especially toward the end - really startled me. I was genuinely shocked by how certain things played out and these moments further increased my engagement in the story.
Overall, despite the fact that I likely wouldn't have picked this up without some heavy prodding, I am really glad that I gave this a try. Whether you're a fan of dystopian novels or not, The Outlands offers a fascinating world, fantastic characters, thought-provoking conversations/scenarios, well crafted action, and an engaging story.
I have to admit, I almost didn't make it through the first chapter, but in the end, I am glad I did. A fellow author and mentor warned me about present tense in fiction writing. I really thought I had read some present tense narratives at some point in my life, after all, I have read hundreds, if not thousands, of books so far in my life. I cannot recall reading any other present tense narratives beyond the first chapter. It is really hard, for me.
Here is why, as I echo my fellow author: Present tense narratives keep the reader in constant and continual suspense.
I understand this form of writing maybe great for a horror type novel, though I can't recall King, Koontz, or Rice writing in present tense. (I admit, I may be forgetting some over the years. It is entirely possible.) But for a dystopian fiction, it was a struggle to stick with. It was like trying to watch subtitles for an action movie. Imagine watching King Arthur: Legend of the Sword and trying to keep up with the story while reading subtitles. I guess if you are used to it, it's not a problem, but it is definitely distracting and kind of ruins the overall effect.
Still, the same author who warned me about the growing popularity of present tense narratives also advised me to stick with one and give it a fair shot before deciding for myself what I think of that style of writing. So I did.
In this case, I am grateful. (It might have to do with the fact that this particular present tense narrative is also in first person, which at least meant no head hopping. Yay!)
The Outlands is actually quite good. Tapping into the mind and actions of Jett Lasting, an orphan and an "undesirable" living in one of the last cities that survived the fall of an advanced civilization, the book taps into a popular genre where unlikely young people question the status quo and seek not just to find answers, but seek ways to fight injustice, to create a better world than the one they find themselves in.
Jett Lasting, and several key characters around him, are very well developed. Jett's own internal struggles are significant, and his transition from going with the flow to standing out and standing apart is real and believable of all young people. The inter-character relationships are woven together so fully that just when you think you have figured out who the "bad guy" is, the tables are turned on you.
In regards to world building, Mr. Edwards did a fantastic job of laying out enough detail to give you a good internal view of the city, its hierarchy, and the classes and customs that affect Jett, while not just dumping information. That said, a great deal regarding the problems with the working political system was repeated over and over... and over, just in case you forgot from five chapters earlier. In some cases, I think this repetition was intended to hammer home how fully fed up the main character was, but over all, that repetition just fought with the problem of present tense in which was more distracting.
In the end, trying to be as objective as I can, because I realize my issue with present tense is entirely subjective, the added problem of too much repetition, plus (despite heavy re-edits, which I am sure did the book a great service) there were numerous grammatical errors as well as usage of wrong or missing words, etc that further pulled me out of the story.
I give The Outlands four stars, because despite the "problems" this book has, I was pulled into the story and was invested in the outcome. I found myself rooting for Jett and his friends, and despite the constant "edge of my seat" feeling from reading present tense (which is not warranted for the times when Jett and his friends are sitting and talking over a meal... you get me?) there was real suspense to the story.
This would be a good read for young adults and older who are fans of dystopian novels in the same line as The Hunger Games or Divergent. Granted, it does end with the clear indication of a following book, and I do sincerely hope there is one.
5.0 out of 5 starsBe ready to read and pay close attention. Things are not as they seem.
Reviewed in the United States on January 5, 2021
Using rich characterization to draw us into the world of the Undesirable and the varied other classes with which they compete, causes the reader to immediately choose sides. If you savor richly detailed post apocalyptic worlds trying to forge their way, you’re in for a treat. This series debut is a page-turner that will no doubt leave readers eager for future series installments. The twists and turns of the story will leave you tired and breathless. Mr. Edwards has built a very imaginative and fresh storyline with suspense and intrigue at every turn. I cannot wait to find what our young band of friends encounter as they are forced to make their way in The Outlands. Be sure to secure your copy soon!!
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on February 11, 2021
I enjoyed this book. The parts that work well were extremely well written, I was sucked into the world and led on a roller coaster, loved the world building and discovering a unique twist on the Dystopian genre. There was a solid structure and a good start to a series.