Review of The Notorious Scarlett and Browne

The Notorious Scarlett and BrowneThe Notorious Scarlett and Browne
by Jonathan Stroud
Middle School, High School    Knopf    432 pp.
4/23    9780593430408    $17.99
Library ed.  9780593430415    $20.99
e-book ed.  9780593430422    $10.99

“Scarlett’s senses crackled with anticipation,” Stroud writes in the second book (following The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne, rev. 1/22) in this fantasy series full of action, outlaws, dystopian societies, and post-apocalyptic ghouls. And crackle is the word, too, to describe Stroud’s insouciant humor, energetic and witty invention, and underlay of empathy in this fizzingly paced adventure. Notorious outlaw Scarlett and the telepathically gifted Albert Browne are roped into the dangerous heist of a truckload of religious artifacts when they are blackmailed by Scarlett’s old colleagues in theft, the Brothers of the Hand. The job goes as well as a theft can until it ends with capture and the gallows, thanks to the religious conglomerate that runs this future scorched-earth Britain. To say the stakes are high is an understatement, but that is Stroud at his best: we know the prodigiously skilled Scarlett and Albert—hapless and unworldly though he may be—will win through, but how? Stroud is as playful and inventive in plotting as he is in description (“back was [Scarlett’s] least favorite direction”; a guard has “a face like a disappointed log”), making this novel both hilarious and suspenseful. It has admirable seriousness, to boot, as Scarlett and Albert each begin to face their own interior pain and rage, foreshadowing (one hopes) the next series entry to come.

From the May/June 2023 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Deirdre Baker
Deirdre F. Baker
Deirdre F. Baker, a reviewer for The Horn Book Magazine and the Toronto Star, teaches children’s literature at the University of Toronto. The author of Becca at Sea (Groundwood), she is currently at work on a sequel—written in the past tense.

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