A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
The setting imagines postapocalyptic life in England with a changed landscape (London is flooded and in ruins). Small walled-in cities to the west are barely protected from dangerous animals, cannibals, and criminals, and there's an active slavery trade. It allows readers to think about what part of society still functions, what doesn't, and how chaotic times can invite lawlessness. It also combines many world religions into "Faith Houses" that horde riches and enforce strict laws about who's normal enough to be a part of society. Readers can look up actual theocracies (government and religion combined) around the world and compare them to this one. A scene at the gallows mirrors many from the time of highwaymen in the 17th to early 19th centuries where a spectacle was made. Readers can look up what happened to real highwaymen at the time and whether any others had ballads written about them.
Positive Role Models
Scarlett and Albert Browne still like to rob banks and faith houses. In this installment, they try harder to kill fewer people in the process – mostly at Albert's urging, but Scarlett listens to him. Albert would also like Scarlett to have the curiosity he does about history and other people and to care more about the injustices of the world. Scarlett focuses on those closest to her instead and fiercely protects them. She learns to open up about her past and deal with some of the loss she experienced very young that led her to a life of crime.
In this world, any child who has physical or mental difference is cast out of the cities. Albert was put in a prison and tortured for being different. A young girl who's unable to speak is raised by her grandfather. While the head gangster is described as someone terrifying and formidable despite being in a wheelchair, his weight is also described in detail as something grotesque.
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Violence & Scariness
While the outlaws take pains not to kill everyone in their path, there are still lots of deaths, some gory and most involving the Tainted -- cannibalistic, zombie-like humans with big claws. In another gory death, a big bird bites off the head of a Tainted. Bandits are shot, characters are beaten in prison, and there are chases and fights with guns, fists, axes, knives, and telekinetic powers (strong enough to toss a man out a bar window and kill him). Suspense is sky-high in a drawn-out trip to the gallows and in a scene where characters are threatened with being torn apart by giant birds. Long flashbacks show a girl who loses her whole family to roving beasts. There's a story about a highwayman who's shot out of a cannon as punishment and others sent to the gallows. A one-legged man explains that an animal took his other leg in the mines.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Talk of men at a bar hanging out with "women of the inn."
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A few instances of "bastard," "bloody," "damn," "hell," and "sodding/sod off." Scarlett has a swear jar that she regularly adds to, often without a mention of the word said.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
The teen main characters and those around them drink beer. One character smokes a pipe, and a group smokes on a porch.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that adventure-fantasy The Notorious Scarlett and Browne is the sequel to The Outlaws Scarlett and Brown by Jonathan Stroud (of the popular Lockwood & Co. books and TV show). We're recommending this exciting series for 12 and up -- higher than the publisher's age of 10 -- because of the postapocalyptic setting, some gory violence, and the fact that the main characters are likable villains. Stroud's prose may also be a struggle for kids used to middle-grade fantasy reads; it's more nuanced, with some bigger words mixed in. While main characters Scarlett and Albert Browne take pains not to kill everyone in their path, there are still lots of deaths, some gory and most involving the Tainted -- cannibalistic, zombie-like humans with big claws. A big bird bites off the head of a Tainted. bandits are shot, characters are beaten in prison, and there are chases and fights with guns, fists, axes, knives, and telekinetic powers. A couple of scenes are extremely suspenseful, and gallows make an appearance. Language includes "bastard" and "bloody hell," and the teen characters drink and gamble at bars. They also continue to look out for each other, and there are themes of courage and perseverance.
Is It Any Good?
This satisfying sequel has a summer blockbuster feel, with action, action, and more action, gritty outlaws, sarcastic humor, and tons of suspense – and it's well-written too. You know you're in for a cinematic reading experience from the get-go, when three bandits encounter Scarlett and Albert and their boundless talents on the road. Even with the bandits training guns on the infamous teens, the marauders never stand a chance. And that's just the warm-up to the real action: a heist, a chase, a gambling house shoot-out, a kidnapping (no, two of those), and a bargain that will send the pair deep into scary ruins filled with all kinds of horrors – especially the bitey kind. At least five times, readers will wonder how on this apocalyptic earth Scarlett and Albert will come out alive. And each time they'll be surprised.
That's not to say that The Notorious Scarlett and Browne is all notorious exploits. Readers will learn more about Scarlett's past, both the trauma of her loss and her humorous introduction to meditation. We also get a few more hints about how the cataclysm happened and what part others with Albert's talents may have played in it. And we take a closer look at the injustices of this world, with the hypocrisy of the faith houses and the slave trade. Plus, there are hints that Albert may continue to persuade Scarlett to do some good in their fractured world -- in between heists, of course. The pair may already have a ballad written about their many misdeeds, but it's clear from this satisfying sequel that there are many more thrilling and surprising verses to come.
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