Move over J.K.! Jonathan Stroud is here, writing incredible dark fantasy for young readers with a pair of strong, identifiable lead characters.
Scarlett McCain and Albert Browne are an unlikely pair, often getting on each other’s nerves, but the two need each other more than they likely can see or would care to admit. Scarlett has led a rogue life all her few years, and she’s more than adept at getting out of a tight jam, whether it’s stealing the un-stealable, or facing off against a squad of killers.
Albert seems to be the mild-mannered, quiet child, constantly in need of Scarlett’s help and approval. But the truth is, Albert is probably the more powerful of the pair. He doesn’t use his power often, but wen he does everyone in his path, including Scarlett, is in danger. The two met up in the first book when Albert ran away from a home that was ‘helping’ him understand and harness his power. Now he’s being hunted by an operative from the school – someone with similar powers but who has learned how to control them, giving him an advantage when they ultimately face off.
Meanwhile their past, as thieves and robbers, has caught up to them and new-found friends of theirs have been kidnapped and the ransom for their release is that Scarlett and Brown must rob the most secure mine around. This will be the easier challenge when they are caught, imprisoned, and led to the gallows under full guard.
Although I gave the first book a 4-1/2 star rating and this gets the same, this is a slightly better book. We get some much-needed background on our protagonists – where did Scarlett come from, what happened to her brother, and just how bad was Albert’s forced indoctrination in the school.
The previous book was an exciting romp, with Scarlett and Albert slowly discovering one another and deciding where to put their trust, there was also a sense of randomness. They were running but what they were running from was a bit amorphous and what they were robbing along the way was simply a matter of convenience.
Now there’s a planned target ahead of them, but even more importantly, what’s chasing them has a face and a name (Mallory) and powers that make him a very formidable foe. And his presence suggests that Scarlett & Browne will have to be looking over their shoulders in books to come.
One of the things that I really appreciate about this book is that while it’s clearly written for a younger reading audience, it doesn’t shy away from darker themes. Of course this is nothing new, and J.K. Rowling took some heat in the press for how dark some of the Harry Potter books were, but it definitely helped establish that young readers are by and large capable of accepting this. Which is good, because there’s a fair amount of violence going on here. So much so that I won’t go into detail, but there’s a harsh beating that Albert takes, and both Scarlett and Albert are waked to the gallows and a noose placed around Scarlett’s neck in the climax of the book’s action.
But Jonathan Stroud is a master author and while it is a very tense scene, we know that everything will work out. It wasn’t about will they make it/won’t they make it, it was about how and when.
One thing that I’m not sure I needed was a larger presence for “The Tainted” – essentially evil spirits or angry ghosts. I didn’t even remember them from the first book and had to go back to see if they were there. They do play a large role here in both the rising action and the denouement, but for me it brings this series too close to Stroud’s really phenomenal Lockwood & Co. books. As much as I like them, I’d much rather see this series have a much more unique voice.
Even so, give me a Jonathan Stroud book and I will have some very happy reading.
Looking for a good book? The Notorious Scarlett & Browne by Jonathan Stroud is a fast-paced, action-packed dark fantasy for young (and old) readers.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
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The Notorious Scarlett & Browne
author: Jonathan Stroud
series: The Outlaws Scarlett & Browne #2
publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
hardcover, 432 pages