Scarlett McCain might go by a different name for every bank she robs, but it's no accident that whether Jane Oakley, Jenny Blackwood, or some other name entirely is plastered across the papers, the red-haired outlaw never ends up behind bars. Whether she's sneaking in under the cover of dark or walking brazenly into the bank manager's office in broad daylight, Scarlett always has a plan, and she's quick enough on her feet that if that doesn't work out, well, she'll just think up a new one. Sure, it's not always easy, but challenges make life more interesting, and everyone besides Scarlett is too afraid of the Wilds that surround the handful of Surviving Towns that she never gets pursued very far.
That is, not until now, when she picks up an optimistic, oblivious boy named Albert Browne from the ruins of a bus crash. Scarlett isn't one for sentimentality--she's survived this long by working alone and moving fast--but she grudgingly agrees to guide Albert to the nearest town.
But what she expected to just be a brief few days before heading out on her next job turn into much more when they're pursued deep into the Wilds after her latest job, and not by the usual unmotivated pack of guards and dogs that she'd expect from the bank she'd robbed. No, these are hardcore, trained hunters who are more than a match even for Scarlett's wit and inginuity. And as they race to outrun their pursuers and the things they aren't telling each other, Scarlett begins to ask herself: what if they aren't looking for her, after all? What if, instead, they're looking for...Albert?
Set in a futuristic, fractured version of modern Britain, The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne is an action-packed, remarkable, and funny story which I absolutely loved. If the opening sentences aren't enough to pull you in, the first chapter surely will; Jonathan Stroud (also the author of the excellent fantasy novel The Amulet of Samarkand, among others) makes Scarlett so improbably relatable and funny, and her narrative so perfectly poised and unique, that I found this book quite simply irresistible. Scarlett and Albert are in many ways polar opposites--Scarlett alert, driven, and sarcastic, and Albert dreamy, hopeful, and oblivious--and so they bounce off each other in a way which feels gratifying and authentic in every possible way, in addition to being absolutely hilarious. When written down, neither of their personalities seem so revolutionary, but the way Stroud pulls them off is, and at no point did my interest lag with them driving the story. The mix of clever twists, action, adventure, and the unusual details of the settings together make the story move quickly and completely absorb the reader, and it's carried wonderfully throughout the book. I highly recommend The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne to readers ages ten and up looking for an awesome and brilliant adventure story.