The Notorious Scarlett & Browne - Jonathan Stroud
Scarlett McCain and Albert Browne have outwitted their pursuers and escaped into the wilds of Mercia and Northumbria, and it’s not long before they become famous across the Seven Kingdoms for their audacious heists. No bank is safe from a pair with the ability to read minds and make a perfect shot. But neither is fully able to escape the past – as they discover when a dangerous job turns sour. Soon old enemies and sinister new threats are pressing in on every side, and Scarlett and Albert must pull off an impossible mission. Can they hope to outwit the Faith Houses and the Brothers of the Hand – and save the people they hold most dear?
I loved the first book in this series (reviewed on here last year), so was waiting eagerly for this follow-up and was not disappointed! Continuing the adventures of unlikely pairing Scarlett and Albert as they further their criminal spree across the seven kingdoms of a dystopian Britain, this sequel also fills in some gaps in the back stories of the two characters (who can forget that bus crash opening from Book 1!?). With twists, turns, action and the brilliant sass and sarcasm of Scarlett in abundance (I'd almost forgotten what a brilliant character she was), this really is a great read - a proper 'page-turner'- and sets up the final in the trilogy brilliantly, too.
I'm thrilled that Jonathan has written a guest piece as part of the blogtour for whatiread about writing this sequel that I can share here:
The Notorious Scarlett and Browne Blog Tour Writing a Sequel
It’s a strange task, writing a sequel. On the one hand, it’s a lot easier than creating the
original book, because so much is already in position. You have the world spread out before
you; you have its rules more or less fixed before your eyes. Most crucially of all, your main
characters – their personalities, their appearance, their voices – are clear in your mind. You
are not strangers to them, but firm acquaintances, perhaps even friends. You know the way
they’ll conduct their conversations; you know their likes and dislikes. You also know how
they’ll react if a sub-human cannibal jumps out of the shadows and tries to eat them.
I had all these useful advantages while working on The Notorious Scarlett and Browne. In
the previous book, The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne, even quite fundamental things had
been up for grabs. For instance, it had taken me ages to figure out exactly who my heroes
were. I’d wasted months trying out a jaded middle-aged man for the Scarlett role, with a
young (but sarcastic) girl as his annoying fellow-traveller. That hadn’t worked out well –
somehow things just didn’t spark. Swapping sexes and adjusting ages helped matters
considerably, but I still went down plenty of other cul-de-sacs as I pieced together my duo’s
journey across a ravaged future England.
With Book Two, I could happily avoid such problems. Even so, another danger instantly
reared its head: the temptation to merely repeat the formula.
If something has been solved, if it fundamentally works, there is a strong logic to simply
repeat it in your second book, with as many small variations as possible, and with very
slightly diminishing returns. Should a third book follow, the same applies, and so too in any
others that happen to come along, until a shelf of very similar books groans stalely before
you. This is an outcome that’s worth avoiding. Somehow, then, you have to do something
different with the sequel, so that it stands alone in and of itself – as well as being a valid and
appropriate companion to the first one.
With The Notorious Scarlett and Browne, I knew from the outset how I wanted to make it
distinct. In Outlaws, Albert and Scarlett are both distinguished by their mysterious (and
evidently traumatic) backgrounds. So different in every other way – Scarlett is tough, cynical
and formidable, while Albert is diffident, innocent and (to Scarlett) irritatingly wide-eyed –
they are indissolubly linked by the harsh experiences of their childhoods. But what were
those experiences? In the first book, we go some way to uncover Albert’s secrets – both
through some flashback chapters and by the eruption of his hidden psychic talents. Scarlett,
however, keeps her cards laconically close to her chest. We get a few hints, but she’s the kind
of girl who would rather shoot you dead than willingly open up about her past. Albert – and
we – are kept firmly at bay.
In Notorious, this distance is about to change. We see the truth unfolding in Scarlett’s
flashback chapters, which were the first parts of the sequel that I wrote. This turned out to be
a good move, because they helped ignite my energies for the task ahead. They were at once
more intimate and (I hoped) more powerful than almost anything else I’d written, as we cut to
the tragedy of Scarlett’s past. Despite this, I wrote them very quickly – most of these chapters
were written in a single week – which is often a sign that something is working well. At once,
and even with 95% of the book yet to be written, I felt that Book Two had its own distinct
identity – it was already separate from the blueprint of Book One.
As I slowly constructed the rest of the narrative around these four pieces, their shadows
stretched across the more light-hearted interplay between Scarlett and Albert in the
narrative’s present, creating ironies, echoes and darker shades of meaning. Gradually, I was
able to frame the whole plot of Book Two in the light of this other, deeper story, and I’m very
proud of the layering that results. That wasn’t something I would have predicted before I
started – you can never guess in advance quite how any project will turn out – but I’m glad I
figured out the personality of the book so quickly.
The only problem now, of course, is what happens with Book Three…
I, for one, can't wait to find out!
Find out what others think of Scarlett and Browne at the other stops on the blogtour via the links below:
Jonathan Stroud wrote his first novel – Buried Fire – while working as an editor at Walker Books. He is the author of two internationally bestselling series: the award-winning Bartimaeus sequence, which has been published in 36 languages worldwide, and the critically acclaimed Lockwood & Co, which is currently being adapted by Netflix. His other novels include The Leap, The Last Siege and Heroes of the Valley. Jonathan lives in Hertfordshire with his wife and three children.
Author website: www.jonathanstroud.com/
Thanks to Rosi and Rebecca at Walker for a copy of the book for review and the opportunity to be part of the blogtour. Find out more about the book at:
Review by Rich Simpson (@richreadalot) July 2022. All opinions my own.