Like Mills and Boon (I hear), John Flanagan writes really addictive stuff. I don’t mean can’t-stop-digging-into-the-leftover-cheesecake-in-the-fridge type addiction, I mean put-on-a-high-vis-vest, drop-by-the-local-retirement-home, borrow-their-flatsceen-and-haul-it-down-to-Cash-Converters-so-that-you-can-pick-up-his-latest-novel-from-the-enterprising-self-starter-on-the-cnr-of-Russell-and-Bourke-streets. Also like Mills and Boon, we aren’t reading it for the quality of the writing.
Outcasts is the first book in a new series titled Brotherband (the second of which, The invaders, is already out in shops). Book one follows a group of outsiders as they form their own ‘brotherband’ because they are too short-sighted, short-tempered or short on testosterone to become part of one of the other brotherbands. I don’t know if brotherband is a terrible translation or just a terrible name but this is not all that is terrible about the writing.
Flanagan sells so many books that my criticism is irrelevant (and, as I may have mentioned earlier, his books are awfully addictive) but he seems to need a lesson in show don’t tell. In the opening, for example, he introduces the characters Mikkel and Thorn by describing them thusly: ‘Mikkel was taller and leaner than the average Skandian. But he was powerful and hard muscled. And he had the reflexes of a cat…Thorn was slightly shorter than his friend, but much wider in the shoulders and chest.’ Surely Flanagan could have come up with some sort of event that would neatly display these qualities rather than just hitting us in the face with them. I would have been rolling my eyes but I couldn’t tear them away from the page.
The reason that this book is so addictive is that it is packed full of adventure and has a great cast of characters that fit into the ‘he’s a loser like me and he is winning at something’ mould. That and there is one of those awesome, rough, ex-drunk mentor characters.
The brotherbands are in training to become the next group of Skandian raiders. Because the main character Hal’s brotherband is made up of nerds, this becomes a bit of a David and Goliath story. They compete in various tasks like running up hills, running around town and sailing places in a book-long training sequence that puts JCVD to shame. I would like to say there was more to it than that but really, that’s pretty much it.
Ethically this is a fairly compromised book. The solution to all the problems is usually violence and for some reasons the Vikings take the moral high ground over the Magyarans (for some reason, saying that all Hungarians are thieves would, appropriately, make everyone mad but calling all Magyarans pirates is ok). The CBCA also says that books that are part of a series that get shortlisted need to be able to stand alone but this obviously doesn’t appear to apply to books that don’t have a proper ending.
Due to these problems, Brotherband will not win the book of the year award but that doesn’t make it any less readable. Indulge a guilty pleasure and get into it.