I still don’t know how I feel about this one and it’s been over a month. It was a super fast read, read it only about three hours, and parts of it I really liked, I guess overall I just wasn’t in the mood for a story that wasn’t all HEAs all over the place. Or that at least didn’t kill the one character I liked the most. Thanks for that, by the way.
Outlawed is an alternate history western set in 1894-5, in a world where seventy years before, a disease everyone just calls ‘the Flu’ killed a huge portion of the population. This has made an already patriarchal, misogynistic, religious society fertility- and baby- and motherhood-obsessed. Things do NOT go well for women who can’t have children. I did think it interesting that women who were mothers were so elevated, but the flip side of that is that women who couldn’t be, or anyone whose “activities” threatened the creation of children, have it all that much worse off. The most common way for a barren woman to be treated was to be scapegoated, accused of witchcraft, and blamed for all miscarriages and misfortunes of her neighbors.
This is the setting when our narrator Ada fails to conceive and her husband and her family, in a society where a the idea that a woman’s worth is only in her womb is taken to an extreme, Ada does not fit, and rather than be hung for a witch, her midwife mother helps her escape to a convent, where she begins to find her calling, before eventually following a path that has her becoming an outlaw. Things do not go super well for Ada in her time as an outlaw, and I found myself really wishing that plot wasn’t the main focus of the novel. I was much more interested in the parts where Ada became fixated on learning the science of women’s bodies, and her quest to find out the reason that some women are barren. I guess I just wanted this to be a different book.
And on top of me not really liking the outlaw plot all that much to begin with, after it finally managed to get me invested, things did not go the way I wanted them to there, either. SPOILERS I loved Lark, the castrated (bisexual? pansexual?) man Ada ends up accidentally married to, and I’m pissed that North was writing a story in which she felt the need to kill him END SPOILERS. Again, I think I just wanted this to be telling a story the author didn’t want to tell.
Though it’s telling a very anti-patriarchal, in some ways anti-capitalist, story, and it’s full of queer characters and misfits and considerations for women’s rights, it just ultimately wasn’t my cup of tea, though it may very well be liked by other people whose tastes run more to the depressing end of the spectrum. I didn’t hate it, anyway! And parts of it I really liked. I suppose that’s as good as I could have expected here.