Another book review by Julie! For 2014, I've updated the rating system.
Outcasts (The Safe Lands Book 2) by Jill Williamson
Ridiculously simplified summary: Second in a series. Levi, Omar, and Mason are brothers whose entire village, Glenrock, was captured by the Safelanders. The Safelanders live for pleasure, force women into pregnancy, and are "liberated" at forty to be born into their next life. Previously, Levi and the other male survivors of Glenrock managed to free their women from the Safelanders' "harem," a place where the pregnant women are imprisoned/pampered. But their children remain imprisoned in boarding schools. With a group of rebels, the people of Glenrock make a daring rescue plan. Meanwhile, Omar and Mason--who are still "on the grid"--try their best to navigate the Safelands, hiding their rebel identities. Mason has doubts about Ciddah, the doctor he loves, while Omar has doubts about his own self-worth.
Content: Not very heavy on Christian content, though one character uses Bible references as encouragement--these would probably go over the heads of those who aren't familiar with the Bible. Overall, the religious content is probably on the borderline of what might make a vehement non-believer squirm.
As to other content, there is reference to sex and forced pregnancy and drug use, and not a small amount of violence. I'm sure it's nothing teens haven't been exposed to--certainly nothing as bad as the first couple chapters of a more famous dystopian book, 1984, which I found shelved in Young Adult at my library--but if I were a parent, I'm still not sure how I would feel if my young teen wanted to read it.
Characters - 9 out of 10. This gets a high rating because I actually really like Mason, Shaylinn, and even Omar, as well as the rebel Zane--so much that I actually very much care what happens to them, something I don't feel at all in maybe half the books I read. (Although about halfway through I felt like Mason was channeling Sheldon Cooper a bit--was he that robotic in the first book? I still love him anyway.) Even Levi serves a place in the story, though he's still patronizing and controlling and rather sexist, and I still don't care for him at all as a person. This gets dinged just a little because there are just so many characters brought in that not every personality can be clear. For every well-visualized character there's another minor character that Williamson may have had clearly in her head, but that doesn't stand out for me.
I'm not particularly fond of the fact that by my count, every single female who does anything remotely interesting in the book (aside from one child) is a wife, mother, and/or love interest. That's not to say that there aren't memorable female characters, and some of the problem is the society of the Safelands altogether. But even in the rebel group--a group of which one member hints that Levi is being too patriarchal--there's not a woman of consequence to be seen. I'd love to see that remedied in Book 3.
Suspense/stakes - 4 out of 5. Much of the book was suspenseful and I read it over the course of several nights, without any lengthy pauses like I sometimes have for books that don't grab me. I did feel there were too many scenes of explaining plans (and that was generally in a council of men because yes, Levi thinks the women are too emotional for such discussions). In a couple of the rescue adventures, I felt like the action slowed to a crawl in places--I'm not sure if that was intentional or not, but I would've preferred if it had been just a bit faster-paced throughout. But overall I very much cared what happened.
World building - 5 out of 5. I think this is the series' greatest strength. I still don't get a true sense of Glenrock's society, but I don't think that's even necessary or helpful at this point. I found the slang and new words in the Safe Lands to be incredibly immersive--almost instantly I was pulled back into the world I remembered from the first book. "Hey-o, valentine. I've got to stop at the GIN, but then maybe we can vape and trade some paint. I'll tap you" is a semi-plausible paragraph that I concocted from memory. (Note that it is not my fault that some of the most memorable words had to do with illicit activity.) The technology is again very interesting, and I love reading about other societies.
Writing/editing - 5 out of 5*. This is tentative; I had an advance reader copy and actually spotted about 4 typos. I'm assuming that at least half of those will be weeded out for the final copy. Given it was an advance copy, I was a bit surprised those were the only problems I saw.
Clarity - 3 out of 5. First off, I have no idea how anyone who didn't read Book 1 would be able to keep track of the people here. I did read Book 1, not even six months ago, but I was still a bit lost at certain points. I didn't notice any concessions to the reader who didn't start at Book 1, though of course some information repeated from Book 1 would have made its way into this book. And even having read Book 1, I got confused with who some of the bad guys were and what their motivations were. Adding to the trouble is that two male characters have either a son or a father--everyone uses first names as far as I can see, except Zane once says something like his dad would kill him. So while these characters' personalities aren't the same, it takes some thinking to remember the familial relationships. (In fact, I forgot about a character being Bender's son for a very long stretch.)
Likewise, there is some confusion because the Safelander culture is to act young and yet to grow up quickly, so you certainly can't take cues from how people are acting to figure out if they're young, old, or what. Ciddah seemed to generally act like maybe a 25-year-old (and much older when it came to two people close to her). With his gender biases, I feel like Glenrock elder Levi could at times be mistaken for someone much older. Mason, the youngest in the family we focus on, is arguably the most mature of the brothers. Omar is the only one who stands out to me as acting "like" a teenager/young adult.
Plausibility/believability - 3 out of 5. I thought there were some aspects that could be considered either plot holes or mysteries, mostly concerning the tracking "Sim" chips that every Safelander has in his or her hand, but which the rebels take out (and apparently they can get away with wearing gloves containing "ghoulie"/dummy chips). If I were a Safelander, I'd give special scrutiny to anyone who wore gloves, personally... But there could be an explanation for all that which we haven't been shown yet. I just plain don't understand some of the bad guys' motivations; as far as I could tell, one's main motivation was that he's snapped and wants something that isn't at all normal in the Safe Lands.
Positive - 3 out of 5. One word. CLIFFHANGER! I really don't like cliffhangers, and this one ends on a pretty big one. But that said, I'm not sure how it could've ended any other way. There are still some potential doubts as to loyalties by the end, and characters with problems haven't magically recovered by the end. But that's pretty common for Book 2 in a series, and probably what should happen anyway.
Gut reaction - 5 out of 5. This book had kind of sexist undertones (yes, Levi is gently called to task for his sexism a couple times, but I still feel there's a distinct gender imbalance in both raw numbers and the significance and power of women versus men). And I felt like the second half or so was basically a series of rescue attempts, which got a bit old. But all that said...I still really enjoyed this book. Some engaging characters and a detailed world drew me in. I'm eager to read the conclusion.
Free points: 5 out of 5.
Recommended for: Fans of edgy dystopian science fiction who read Book 1.
Total Rating: 4.2 out of 5 stars
Here are the other participants on the tour!
Thomas Fletcher Booher
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Melanie @ Christian Bookshelf Reviews
Rebecca LuElla Miller
*In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free Advance Readers Copy of this book.