There are series that are fun. There are series that are dynamic and heart-pounding. Then there are those that just plain tear those cardiomyocytes right outta your chest. The Outlands Pentalogy would be this one.
Satisfying contemporary adult dystopian fiction is, in my opinion, difficult to find. Extraordinary adult dystopian fiction is even more difficult to find in the modern world (but, certainly let me know to prove me wrong...). When I say adult dystopian fiction, I don't mean the droves that that are swaddled in YA and its familiar tropes (though, don't assume I don't necessarily enjoy it), I mean complex, layered, adult stories and characters, where nothing is necessarily a given, and everyone has dark and dangerous flaws that might also be their saving grace (or vice versa). Dystopic stories almost always (or, perhaps, always should) have the loss of liberty as the primary, or underlying, theme. The loss of liberty is something warned about in the most famous dystopian fiction, from More's Utopia to Hartley's Facial Justice. Those stories where the world is not so different to what we know, and where some people have yet to be colloquially red-pilled.
And so, considering the vast swathes of dystopian fiction out there, it is not a light declaration that The Outlands Pentalogy is one of my absolute favourite series - not just in this genre, but in general, overall, historically. It is a strong and solid series, handled masterfully by an indie writer who has not (and in my opinion, luckily) been suffocated by a big publisher, and therefore is fantastically unique. It's beautifully written, smart and clever in its reveals. You think you now where something's going, and sometimes you do. Then you really don't.
Our protagonists' POV vary depending on the book, and this way we get to know the characters fairly darn well. Catherine Taenia (Kitty, as Nate calls her) is a high-born, the daughter of the kingdom's Hangman, spoilt and selfish. She's embroiled in some bad business with Nate Anteros. Nate is bullish, headstrong, and leaps into, well, everything, without much thought beforehand. The problem is she can't just drop Nate from her life: his brother is her intended (or assigned Complement), Thomas Anteros. Thom is clever and cunning, knows how to get almost anything done with almost the snap of his fingers, the opposite of his brother, but seemingly (for reasons yet unknown) so uniquely connected to Nate it's almost...unnatural. And I really don't know why; the ultimate book in the tale isn't out yet!
Unfortunately, Catherine gets caught up in some trouble with Nate and they find themselves stranded in a danger zone, and shortly after they find themselves submitting to an unknown sickness, and some strange mutations. And it also leads Thom into danger of his own, not long after which Catherine and Nate flee for their lives. Their journey leads them to discover secrets the kingdom that might very well affect the fate of everyone in the known world, and beyond. And one of the best arcs in this saga - they don't really care. They just want out.
It's difficult to write my favourite parts of these books without giving too much away. Each one adds a new and welcome angle to the story (as the author describes it, the series was intended as a puzzle), and so each volume fills in the blanks (or the misdirection...hehe...) from another. Suffice to say, that's why you think you know something...then boom! A Touch of Death is the catalyst - and a deeply desperate story of love and intrigue. A History of Madness is a powerful, humanising story of trust and loss. A Promise of Return is the action-packed game-changing powder keg that starts rolling itself into the picture frame, and it's not quite clear yet who has the match. A Dance of Lies is a gentler (kind of...) tale of appreciating life, understanding who you are and knowing when to move on. And...well, I suppose we'll all know together what the finale holds when the beacon's lit, eh?
Rebecca Crunden loves her characters, loves this world, this is non-negotiable. She forces them into such dire and distraught circumstances you know well it's the only way possible to ensure they fulfil their potential. It's for their own good. And I'm with them. I want them to fight, I want them to succeed. But they're so damn human (mostly) it's no easy to just wish for. And I hate them and love them in equal measure. They all deserve a slap now and then, but at the next cliff, there's nobody you'd rather have at your side in a science fiction dystopic hellhole.
Who's my favourite character? Well, personally, I love a tale of two brothers. It's my favourite kind of relationship, and Nate and Thom's is really fantastic and I don't know how I'm going to deal with how it might end...
I'm so extremely sold on this world and its characters I finished them all within a few weeks and couldn't read another fiction for about a month afterwards. Not sure what such a deep love of dystopias says about me, but hey, I'm clearly not alone, eh?
Waiting patiently for the finale with little to no fingernails...
And so, the finale has come. The finale is here. And I know what happens, ner ner!
A Time of Prophecy is one of Loyal Lyre's September 2019 Books of the Month - read the review!
Read Rebecca Crunden's author interview.