Title: The Outlands (The Outlands Saga #1)
Author: Tyler Edwards
Publication date: January 24, 2021
Genre: Dystopian Science Fiction, YA
One Sentence Summary: Labelled an Undesirable since his parents were murdered when he was six, Jett lives as a thief with a group of others like him, but has the fire in him to want to challenge and tear down the Patriarch.
The Outlands is a fun dystopian science fiction novel centered on a nineteen-year-old thief and Undesirable named Jett and his fellow band of misfits. While his housemates are, more or less, content with their lives, Jett wants more, and an opportunity finds him. As a dystopian, The Outlands crafts a suitably cruel society I wouldn’t want to live in, but there’s so much under the surface and so many twists and turns that I felt pulled right into it. While I ran into a few unanswered questions, grew a bit tired of how doltish some of the adult characters were portrayed to be, and an entire middle that kind of ran over Jett, this was, overall, a really good read and an excellent start to the series.
After a catastrophic war, humanity now lives in one of five domed cities, like the one Jett and his friends reside in. Outside are wastelands called the Outlands where there are twisted creatures and desolation. Inside the dome, the Patriarch rules with an iron fist, demanding all citizens fall in line within one of three Classes or as an Undesirable, or face execution or exile into the Outlands.
An Undesirable since his parents were killed, Jett longs to be able to rise against the Patriarch, to find a way to make life for those like him better. He also just wants the courage to speak to Lilly, a Class B Artisan. His housemates are mostly encouraging and they’ve formed a close group that functions well, but Jett still wants more, and wants revenge for his parents’ murderers.
Unexpectedly, the opportunity for change falls into Jett’s hands, giving him the option to risk his life and do something.
I love dystopian novels, but have such a hard time finding one that actually works for me, and YA isn’t exactly my cup of tea, but I was really intrigued by the blurb the author sent me. As YA dystopian science fiction goes, I found this to actually be quite good, so I imagine someone who loves this specific genre would likely really enjoy it. Most of it felt quite standard for the genre, but there were some nice twists and revelations that helped add a bit more to the story.
While the world building wasn’t perfect, I could never quite decide if the city itself or the characters were the shining stars of The Outlands. The city was so well thought out that I felt like I had been deposited into it, could feel the tension and fear in every citizen. It’s a cruel city and absolutely every possible action of any given citizen has been considered and suitable punishments are at the ready. It’s definitely not a city I’d like to live in, but it really did come alive.
Then there are the characters. Most of them are young, around late teens to early twenties likely. A couple were older, but the story really centered around the younger, more vocal ones. I liked that they were all given unique personalities that both clashed and worked well together. Clearly, they were a tight knit group, but they were still individuals, something of a glaring foil to the rest of society. They all acted their ages, though YA isn’t really my thing so I did tire of their adolescent arguments and antics. The love and warmth they do have for each other despite their differences in opinion, though, saved them and I easily developed a fondness for all of them.
As delightful as I found the city and characters as a whole, I did find something a little lacking until the end when it all suddenly makes sense. The ending was perfect and perfectly tied the whole story and how it was done neatly with a bow, but it’s colored by my growing frustration, especially during the middle. I can live with not fully understanding relatively trivial pieces of the world building, but I was seriously confused about why this novel was called The Outlands if the entire story is set in the city, and I had a hard time shaking the feeling that the wrong character was telling the story. I like Jett, I really do. There’s clearly a great deal of potential in him, a lot of fire, but the entire middle of the story just kind of drove right over him. The story felt too great for him to bear, making him kind of just float around while everyone around him sprang into action and got things done. It was frustrating for me as a reader and I was tempted to stop reading, but the end does save it.
The Outlands was both predictable and had some nice twists. Based on where I was in the book and how much of it was left, I found myself able to make some predictions that came to pass, though they were designed to be twists. Even though part of me was expecting it, I did enjoy it and found it oddly satisfying. There were some twists I didn’t see coming, and it just added to the enjoyability of the end, though I wish everything hadn’t been left to the end. It made the middle sag a little and the beginning feel like it was just a little too much setup.
As a dystopian, I did enjoy The Outlands. I could see how we got from here to there, but I do wonder how the remaining world gave rise to the Patriarch, how they decided to arrange the society the way they did. Overall, it felt like a standard dystopian society, but it was a good background for the story the author was seeking to tell. As YA, it also delivers. As an adult reader who prefers adult fiction, I, of course, was bothered by how the adolescents were smarter than the adults and made quite a few of them look like incompetent idiots, but I understand that’s fairly normal in YA.
The Outlands delivers on all of its promises and even throws in some fun twists and turns. While it’s not exactly the usual sort of read for me, even I must say it was a lot of fun and, other than a middle that overwhelmed the main character, it’s one of the few YA novels I’ve enjoyed over the past decade or so.
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Thank you to Tyler Edwards for a review copy. All opinions expressed are my own.