Tuesday 26 January 2021

OUTLAWED by Anna North

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

On the day of her wedding-dance, Ada feels lucky. She loves her broad-shouldered, bashful husband and her job as an apprentice midwife.

But her luck will not last. It is every woman's duty to have a child, to replace those that were lost in the Great Flu. And after a year of marriage and no pregnancy, in a town where barren women are hanged as witches, Ada's survival depends on leaving behind everything she knows.

She joins up with the notorious Hole in the Wall Gang. Its leader, a charismatic preacher-turned-robber, known to all as The Kid, wants to create a safe haven for women outcast from society. But to make this dream a reality, the Gang hatches a treacherous plan. And Ada must decide whether she's willing to risk her life for the possibility of a new kind of future for them all.

When I received an email about this book, I was instantly interested in checking it out. How could I not be interested in a feminist western version of The Handmaid's Tale meets the Salem witch trials?

In an alternate version of 1894, after the Great Flu, it's a woman's duty to have children. If she doesn't deliver, her life isn't worth much, she gets kicked out of the house, and most are eventually labelled witches. 

Ada's happy to get married while being an apprentice midwife with her mother, but when she can't get pregnant she escapes the town. This leads to the notorious Hole in the Wall Gang led by the enigmatic The Kid, and a very dangerous life...

I really enjoyed this story!

There's a lot to like about this book, and I especially loved the writing style. Ada's voice is simple, interesting and totally engrossing. Her narrative also manages to sneak in a lot of worldbuilding in such a natural and gripping way, that it adds to the experience. 

Ada is such a great character because she's smart, kind and respectful but most people don't see that. All they care about is her lack of getting pregnant and that she asks too many questions. She's inquisitive and wants to help others, plus she's damned good at medicine. 

There are so many brilliant women and none of them are taken seriously because of the religious brainwashing storming through their collective towns. Outdated and silly superstitions strong enough to devalue these women enough all they want to do is escape the confines of this small thinking and start their own safehaven.

I also thought it was really cool how so many familiar problems we still face in society nowadays were woven into this story in a great way. And that the narrative doesn't shy away from different types of mental illness and sexual orientation.

Outlawed is an intriguing and fantastic book that swept me away to a harsh and unfair alternate history that mirrors some of the worst things about our world. Stories like these always interest me because I love to see women fighting the system for themselves and each other. It's messy, unstable and the relationships can get rough sometimes, but I love where they take me. 

Thank you Hachette Australia for sending me a copy!

Outlawed, January 2021, ISBN 9781474615358, W&N

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