Monday 9 May 2011

Review: Outlaw by Stephen Davies

Fifteen-year-old Jake Knight is an explorer and adventurer at heart but this often gets him into trouble. When a stuffy English boarding school suspends him for rule-breaking, Jake flies out to Burkina Faso where his parents are living. He is expecting a long, adventure-filled vacation under a smiling African sun. But what awaits him there is kidnapping, terrorism and Yakuuba Sor – the most wanted outlaw in the Sahara desert.

Back in the early days of The Book Zone I reviewed a book called Hacking Timbuktu by Stephen Davies. This was a time when only a couple of publishers had noticed me and I was still doing as I had originally planned to do with the blog - reviewing books from my own collection or from the school library. Hacking Timbuktu was one of the latter, and with so many to choose from I am not sure what made me pick it up. Perhaps it was its Africa setting (before we had a glut of Africa-set books)? Perhaps it was the mention of parkour/freerunning in the blurb? Whatever the reason, I really, really enjoyed it, and I have been looking forward to reading whatever Stephen wrote next ever since.

Outlaw is that next book. It is not a sequel to Hacking Timbuktu - both are standalone novels, although they do have a lot in common: breathtaking action, tight plotting, realistic use of modern technology, a degree of social comment without being in-your-face moralistic, likeable protagonists and the fantastic African setting, in this case Burkina Faso. For me it is this final aspect that is the icing on the cake for this book, as well as the other books by Stephen Davies that I have read. Stephen lhas lived in Burkina Faso for the past ten years, and so you know that pretty much all his descriptions of the people, their culture and the environment in which they live are spot on. This is not the work of an author who has taken a jolly little jaunt to Africa in order to research the location for their novel - this is the work of a man who lives, breathes and loves the country he has written about, and the setting in this book feels all the more real because of this.

The hero of Outlaw is Jake Knight, son of the British Ambassador to Burkina Faso, wannabe adventurer but currently stuck in a boarding school in England. As any parent or teacher will know, when active kids are bored this often leads to mischief, and for Jake a late night challenge by his fellow boarders as part of an ongoing game ends with him being suspended by his Headmaster, and sent to stay with his family for the rest of term, although Jake sees this as a release from his boredom more than a punishment. Once in Africa though it isn't long before he and his sister are kidnapped by someone they believe to be Yakuuba Sor - a bandit whose name is at the top of the country's most-wanted list. But is all as it first appears?

This is one of those books that 11+ boys who love action and adventure will love. The plot twists and turns, with Jake and his sister, and us as readers, never knowing who we should trust, and just who really are the good guys and who are the bad guys. Stephen Davies certainly deserves to become more widely known than he currently is, and I will definitely be pushing Outlaw in the school library this term. My thanks go to Andersen Press for sending me a copy of Outlaw to review. Please come back later this week when I will be posting a Q&A session that Stephen very kkndly did for The Book Zone.


  1. Lucky you to have read another of Steve's books! He's visiting on Bookwitch today, wearing a really fetching scarf thing on his head.

  2. Great review. This does sound like a fab read and great that the setting really made the book come to life for you. Cool!

  3. My 5th grade son (almost 11) thoroughly enjoyed Hacking Timbuktu, and got some of his classmates to read it. We're looking forward to Outlaw! (and trying to get our hands on an import copy of The Yellowcake Conspiracy...)

  4. awesome review