Children’s book of the week: The Notorious Scarlett & Browne

The cover of The Notorious Scarlett & Browne by Jonathan Stroud.
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Here’s the spot where we recommend a children’s book every week – this time it’s The Notorious Scarlett & Browne by Jonathan Stroud.

As if writing the beloved and critically acclaimed Lockwood & Co. wasn’t enough for Jonathan Stroud, he had to go on to launch another incredible series. 2021’s The Outlaws Scarlett & Browne introduced us to a formidable pair of outlaws traversing a post-apocalyptic landscape.

England has become a very different place from the one we know. Both natural and human disasters destroyed it – large cities no longer exist, the deadly Tainted roam the wilderness and London is now a lagoon. The mysterious outlaw Scarlet McCain goes about her days robbing the banks belonging to the strange leadership now in control. Things are ticking along just fine until the strange and suspiciously talented Albert Browne crashes into her life – bringing a heap of problems along with him.

The result is a book that is as wonderfully dark as it is wonderfully funny. Scarlett is jaded by alluded-to-trauma whilst Albert is overjoyed by everything and everyone – a utilization of the ever-dependable grumpy/sunshine trope that results in utter joy to read.

This, the follow-up, picks up six months after the first in the series. Going into too much detail over what played out in the first book would be spoilers, suffice to say both Scarlett & Browne are now in an established, and totally platonic, partnership and continue to scheme their way around. A much-needed rest stop at The Wolf’s Head (think the Continental Hotel in John Wick – if that were a rural local pub that only serves sausages & mash) ends in our beloved outlaws having to pull off their greatest and most perilous heist yet.

It would be near-impossible to describe what a joy this series is to read. The world-building is impeccable and easy to visualize with mythology that is clear to understand. The characterization is immensely endearing – Scarlett, Albert and practically every single character they come across as so well rendered and believable. There’s such depth to their construction and personalities, with dialogue that is regularly inducing of belly laughs.

The reason it all works so well is the balance. The setting and the events are dark, but there’s a gentle knowingness in how the story is told and the way the world is explored – joy can always be found amongst the brutality as there is no shadow without light.

With un-put-downable storytelling like this, these are must-read modern-classics in-the-making.

[5 stars]

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