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by Kathryn Mackel
Published by WestBow Press, 2005
Highly recommended by: Shannon McNear
Kathryn Mackel has already dazzled readers with her “Christian chiller” novels The Surrogate and The Departed, and she's about to become a force to be reckoned with in Christian spec fiction as well.
Outriders could be best described as science fantasy. On a futuristic Earth, past the Endless Wars and the plagues which left a large portion of the land uninhabitable, a large community of believers is in hiding to preserve knowledge and technology, and the future of mankind. When the time was right, they sent out handfuls of young people the Birthrighters those who will lead the fight to restore true faith in God, and to keep His creation from being transmogrified out of existence.
This vivid tale of adventure, true faith, and sacrifice is imaginatively written, with characters that grip your heart and stay with you long after you turn the last page. I can't wait for the next book! (November, 2005)
Outriders, by Kathryn Mackel, is one of those books that will grab your imagination and take it for a wild ride through a familiar, yet alien land. With full characters that make you care, and excitement that can get your pulse racing.
Generations after warfare and pollution poisoned the planet and destroyed civilization, one group of survivors remembers their heritage, their birthright. From their sanctuary, the Ark, sunk deep below the arctic ice they train their young to be outriders who do the impossible. To return to the surface world and save the original creation and spread the forgotten Truth. But these young people face more than a poisoned world.
So called sorcerers, wielding the last remnant of science that helped destroy mankind, create abominations by transmogrifying animals and humans to suit the whims of their warlord masters. Only by holding to the Truth that they know, can the outriders hope to overcome the mogs and the greater evil that festers in this poisoned world.
Kathryn Mackel has created a tale full of biblical symbolism and imagery, one of haunting beauty and terrible destruction. All of her characters come through as full people, who each struggle with their own human natures (or fully give in to them) while seeking to fulfill their mission. You come to care for each of the main Characters as soon as you meet them, even when it is clear they are being hard headed and foolish.
One thing I thought Kathryn did extremely well was the "jangle" of the rookie outriders. It came off as totally believable and fluid, but not impossible to understand. However, some of the action scenes felt a bit muddled, and the world-building didn't always hold up for me, but that was easily forgiven in the scope of the journey each character took.
If you like strong action and adventure founded strongly in Christ, then this book won't let you down. Give it a chance and don't dismiss it simply because the setting seems so wild. And even if you don't like it, get it for a young man in your life, a son, nephew, grandson or just some kid in the youth group. They'll love it.
As for me, the sequel can't come out soon enough. Stuart Stockton (May, 2006)
How often have you read stories about radical environmentalist evangelicals having adventures in a post-apocalyptic world? Probably never, right? Kathryn Mackel's world gets full points for creativity. It's got transmogrified giants, out-of-time armor, messenger sparrows, delivery whales, geneticist-sorcerers, and much more.
Aimed at a teenaged audience, Outriders depicts a future in which cataclysmic wars have ravaged the Earth. Most humans live in brutish feudal states. Practically the only surviving advanced technology is a kind of genetic manipulation that mutates humans, animals and plants. Thought to be magic, it is wielded aggressively by sorcerers who seek ever greater power for their respective kingdoms. The natural world, already damaged, is being twisted out of existence for short-term gain.
But all is not lost. A faithful remnant, guided by angels, has preserved or rediscovered the high technology of days gone by. With it, they construct an Ark beneath the polar ice and send out outriders to gather in specimens of all Earth's surviving species, for study and conservation. These young men and women must risk life and limb to battle the forces of the feudal strongholds, gather animals, and protect and evangelize the oppressed, humans and mutants alike.
Mackel's writing is crisp and catchy, appropriate for teens with short attention spans. At times I felt the prose became disjointed and clunky, but there were also places where the style worked quite well, along with some very funny bits. Besides their heroic duties, the characters have typical young-person concerns romantic interests, identity crises and growing pains.
Outriders alludes to a number of vivid biblical stories, like those of Jonah, Noah, and Josiah. There are struggles with very literal demons, as well as more mundane (but still moving) temptations and crises. My sense is that this book was designed primarily for evangelical audiences; non-Christians might find the spiritual themes somewhat confusing or intrusive. There's a praise-and-worship song which is occasionally sung by the characters that seemed out of place to me, but that may just reflect my tastes in religious music.
Some readers may see parallels with SF classic A Canticle for Leibowitz. Aside from the theme of a remnant trying to preserve technology along with religion, there are references in both works to a time after the wars when a resentful humanity rose up and spitefully destroyed what was left of science and learning. I was also reminded of R.A. Lafferty's story "And Walk Now Gently Through The Fire," which has range-riding representatives of the apostolic Church working with untainted animals and being assailed by demons in a world that's fallen apart.
I would call this a work of science fantasy there are science fiction elements, but with an overlay of swords and supposed sorcery. Occasionally the underlying science, as well as some of the action sequences, strain the limits of credibility, so SF purists may be unhappy. However, those who are seeking an exuberantly inventive adventure tale will be rewarded. (January, 2007)
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