Book Review: The Outlands
The Outlands by Tyler Edwards.
Where to begin?
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 may be 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.
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