I’m so excited that I’m participating in Laura Bickle’s Blog Tour for The Outside! I’ve had a copy of the first book in the series, The Hallowed Ones, sitting in a pile to read for ages, and joining the tour gave me an excuse to read both books back to back. If you think the words “Amish” and “vampires” don’t belong together in the same story, then you would be wrong. Bickle has created a truly unique world that explores some pretty heavy themes, but also delivers big time scares.
The Outside (The Hallowed Ones Book Two) by Laura Bickle
Genre: paranormal YA
Date of Publication: September 3, 2013
Number of pages: 320
Word Count: 85000 words
Cover Artist: Shane Rebenschied
One girl. One road. One chance to save what remains…
After a plague of vampires is unleashed in the world, Katie is kicked out of her Amish community for her refusal to adhere to the new rules of survival. Now in exile, she enters an outside world of unspeakable violence with only her two “English” friends and a horse by her side. Together they seek answers and other survivors—but each sunset brings the threat of vampire attack, and each sunrise the threat of starvation.
And yet through this darkness come the shining ones: luminescent men and women with the power to deflect vampires and survive the night. But can these new people be trusted, and are they even people at all?
In this edge-of-your-seat thriller, it’s up to one Amish girl to save her family, her community, and the boy she loves . . . but what will she be asked to leave behind in return?
In a word: Dark and atmospheric, and full of magical moments, a terrifying conclusion to a completely unique story, with two animal travelling companions, a horse and a wolf, that I fell in love with. And let’s just say it: Amish + Vampires = Awesome Story!
I could feel a sense of calmness pervading me. It felt like love. Pure. Clear. Cleansing. Like fire. I took a deep breath. When I exhaled, the ghost of my breath glowed green in my reflected light. I glanced behind me. Alex was at my back. Where he always was. Part of me and part of that light.
*Spoiler warning: Mild spoilers ahead if you haven’t read The Hallowed Ones, but I’ll try to keep them to a minimum.
I was able to read The Hallowed Ones and The Outside back to back, which I highly recommend if you haven’t read this series yet. Bickle has taken a little-explored (in young adult fiction, that is) group of people, the Amish, and placed them in a harrowing situation: an unexplained virus has taken hold of most of the population and turned them into vampires. Only land that has been blessed seems to keep the vampires out and the people within safe. The Outside picks up only a few weeks after the end of The Hallowed Ones. Katie, an Amish teen, and Alex, a boy from the Outside that Katie secretly rescued and nursed back to health, have been cast out of Katie’s Amish community and must now fend for themselves with little or no hope of surviving vampire attacks when the sun goes down. With them is Ginger, a woman from Outside who was visiting Katie when the virus took hold. The three are on their way to Canada to see if Alex’s family has survived the attacks. But their journey is fraught with danger at every turn. Unless they can find hallowed ground to hole up in during the night when the vampires are out, they won’t survive.
The story immediately throws the reader into the unknown of the Outside (what the Amish call the world beyond their community), where Katie and her friends must deal with not only the terror of the bloodthirsty monsters that appear as soon as the sun sets, but a serious lack of food, since most of the stores have already been looted. Bickle’s vampires are neither sparkly nor sexy. They are simply monsters who were once human and now use their powers of persuasion to lure the remaining humans out of the few safe areas left. The cover of this book perfectly captures the tone of the story: a dark and moody landscape with lots of open space and very few places to hide.
But while their situation seems dire, the story is peppered with magical moments when Katie, Alex and Ginger find unexpected safe havens and life feels almost normal, for a while. I loved these moments, and each one gives the reader a sense of hope that our band of travelers might survive the vampires.
Although all the characters are constantly in danger, it’s Katie’s journey that is the most poignant. Her life-long faith in the Amish religion is suddenly being tested and everything she has ever believed in—the concept of Gelassenheit, which means that you must surrender yourself to God’s will—is now in question. Katie discovers that she wants to fight and survive, no matter how much it goes against her Amish upbringing. I loved the struggle that she goes through. As a character, Katie is one of my favorites in recent young adult reads. The fact that she can see beyond her belief system and grow because her situation demands it makes her a true hero, at least in my eyes.
I loved Alex as well. He’s an intelligent young man who is well-read and has lots of philosophical ideas, all of which he shares with Katie. Because of her sheltered upbringing, Katie has never heard fairy tales or read Shakespeare, and she and Alex have many lively discussions about them, while Katie hangs on every word, even as she recognizes that according to her faith, she shouldn’t even be listening to Alex.
One of my favorite characters from The Hallowed Ones makes an appearance: the Hexenmeister, an old Amish man who is in charge of painting hex symbols over house and barn doors, in order to ward off evil. He has also given Katie a letter called a Himmelsbrief that protects her from the vampires. I loved the twist at the end involving Katie and the Hexenmeister, which makes the story come full circle.
But of all the challenges Katie faces, the biggest one is being separated from her family: her mother, father and young sister. Being banned from her community is hard for her, but it doesn’t change the love she has for her family.
The Outside is not a book about religion, even though religious themes are explored throughout the story. These themes work well to show Katie’s transition from a sheltered girl to one who knows firsthand that things aren’t always as they seem. At the end of the book I actually got chills—the good kind you get when you realize a book has just exceeded your expectations.
Many thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.
Advance Praise for The Outside:
“Top-notch. . . . A horror story with heart and soul.”
—Kirkus, starred review
“At once horrifying, hopeful, and hauntingly beautiful, this gorgeous read with its rich textures and spine-tingling suspense kept me glued to the pages in utter fascination. Laura Bickle is a master storyteller.”
-Darynda Jones, NY Times Bestselling author of The Darklight Series
Praise for The Hallowed Ones:
“This is a book to make you fear the shadows–a horrifying and gruesome tale of faith, and things that blink red eyes in the night. I began reading in the daylight, and read on into the late hours, leaning close, biting my lip. I could not look away; I was obsessed. Katie is an unbreakable soul.”
—Lauren DeStefano, New York Times Bestselling author of the Chemical Garden Trilogy
“What an eerily believable, unique story! I can’t stop thinking about it–or shivering.”
—Melissa Marr, New York Times bestselling author of the Wicked Lovely Books
“Tight pacing, suspenseful scenes, Wow! moments of tension, and exposure into a world I knew little about, The Hallowed Ones is an exciting, terse read. . . . Laura Bickle’s debut novel for young adults has quickly become my favorite dystopian novel of 2012. . . . It left me wanting more, so much more.”
“Readers will find it hard to put down this suspenseful, scary, compulsively readable adventure.”
“Katie’s an original character, and her thoughtful rebellion makes her an interesting addition to supernatural fictions’s gallery of strong heroines.”
About the Author:
Laura Bickle’s professional background is in criminal justice and library science, and when she’s not patrolling the stacks at the public library she’s dreaming up stories about the monsters under the stairs (she also writes contemporary fantasy novels under the name Alayna Williams).
Laura lives in Ohio with her husband and six mostly-reformed feral cats.
Big thanks to Bewitching Book Tours for hosting this tour!