Historical Fiction

Book Review: Outlawed

Book Review: Outlawed

Posted: February 13, 2021




Anna North


January 05, 2021



In Anna North’s alternative version of the 1890’s, a Great Flu has wiped out 90 percent of the population, and the remaining population is understandably stressed out about it. They turn to religion for answers, and it’s worth noting that there is little reference to God in this book, but TONS to Baby Jesus.These people straight up worship babies. Women who cannot bear children are shunned, accused of witchcraft, kicked out of their homes, and sometimes killed.

This is where we begin Ada’s story. Ada is experienced in medicine and child birthing, being the daughter of a revered midwife. This provides the foundation for her developing viewpoints, as she tends to question things from a place of science rather than belief. When Ada is unable to produce children of her own, she’s accused of witchcraft and ran out of town. She eventually meets up with the Hole in the Wall Gang, and this is where her real story begins.

girl in witch costume
The Hole in the Wall Gang, basically

The Gang is led by The Kid, a mysterious and fascinating character within themself. The Kid wears many faces throughout the book— preacher, teacher, idealist, cold-blooded killer, and warm-hearted protector. North is careful to never assign a gender to this character. “The Kid is just the Kid”, and I kind of love it that way. The rest of the Gang is made up of women who shift their outward appearance based on their current goals, using both female sexuality and male assuredness to move through a world that doesn’t accept them. While some of them are content to live off the grid looting and robbing, others strive for a world where barren women like them can be embraced.

Where this book excelled for me were the setting and themes. It was a blast to turn the old western stereotypes on their heads and explore the Dakota’s through the eyes of a female gang. The scenery, smells, and seasons of their world were smoothly described and easy to fall into. The author also pulls no punches in terms of describing graphic medical conditions, violence, and the emotional consequences of taking a life. Whenever there’s a shootout, North takes time to describe little personality traits of the Gang’s adversaries— you feel the weight of each death even though you’re rooting for Ada to succeed.

Sexism, racism, and gender roles are all explored in different ways throughout the novel. It gets heavy, and you are made aware that alternate timeline or not, our heroine is still within the 1890’s. Ada’s world is not socially or scientifically enlightened, and one of the most interesting aspects of her story was seeing how her more modern viewpoints clashed with what society would have her believe.

grayscale photography of woman riding horse on grass field
You see that? That's the kind of freedom you can only feel after toppling the the 1890's patriarchy.

Even though we meet several preachers throughout the story, the themes themselves aren’t preachy. They are simply presented to the reader, and like our protagonist Ada we must come up with our own answers. It doesn’t particularly shove one viewpoint or another down your throat, but does encourage you to question your own feelings on the ways of the world. The struggles of the Hole in the Wall Gang are parallel to contemporary issues faced today by the LGBTQ community, minorities, women, and anyone who has felt marginalized. The story is relevant and fresh, and deeper than your typical shoot-em-up western.

One place the book stumbled for me was that it was sometimes difficult to keep track of who was who within the gang. They all tended to bleed into each other, and I think more time spent developing them as individuals would have been helpful. We get vague notions of their opinions, but their fleshed out personalities remain a mystery. They seem to more be tools for the main character to bounce larger philosophical questions off of rather than individuals.

The action is sporadic throughout most of the story, and does devolve into an “out of the frying pan, into the fire” situation several times at the climax of the novel. Overall it is a fun, thoughtful and fast read though, coming in at under 300 pages. I would have been happy to read longer, just to more deeply explore the characters and take more time with the final conclusions. The ending wasn’t what I expected, but I did finish the book feeling satisfied.





Entertainment Value




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