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4.1 6
by Stephen Davies

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A high-tension, high-tech thriller with an African setting.

Jake and his sister, Kas, whose father is the British ambassador to Burkina Faso, are abducted, bundled into a van, and driven into the unknown. In smartphone contact with his father, Jake learns that the kidnapper with the spider web tattoo is the remorseless outlaw Yakuuba Sor, who is connected to an


A high-tension, high-tech thriller with an African setting.

Jake and his sister, Kas, whose father is the British ambassador to Burkina Faso, are abducted, bundled into a van, and driven into the unknown. In smartphone contact with his father, Jake learns that the kidnapper with the spider web tattoo is the remorseless outlaw Yakuuba Sor, who is connected to an international terrorist organization. But is he the real Yakuuba Sor? And is Sor really a dangerous criminal? In this fast-paced tale laced with trickery and murder, Jake and Kas discover that with the corrupt local government and British Intelligence arrayed against them, survival in the African desert may be the least of their problems. Includes an afterword.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Davies (Hacking Timbuktu) smoothly mixes adventure and political commentary, although there’s a whiff of noblesse oblige hanging over this otherwise fine tale set in Burkina Faso. When Jake Knight is suspended from boarding school, he heads to Africa to spend time with his diplomat father and the rest of his family. Shortly after he arrives, Jake and his sister, Kas, are kidnapped and pulled into a conspiracy that involves crooked police officers, sociopathic spies, and Yakuuba Sor, the most wanted criminal in the country. Davies, a missionary living in Burkina Faso, clearly has intimate knowledge of the nation’s troubles, but the fact that those fighting for freedom need help from visiting Europeans may raise some eyebrows. There are fewer issues with Jake and Kas, who are knowledgeable and competent without seeming unbelievable; the story reads best as an eye-opening journey for them about the abuses of power. Readers who take this approach should enjoy both the characters (especially Sor, who has a saying for every occasion) and the abundant action. Ages 12–up. (Nov.)
From the Publisher

"The outlaw at the heart of the plot, Yakuuba Sor, brings a heartening complexity and morality to this seldom-seen setting. Nonstop action in the African desert"-Kirkus "This thriller is a great way to get readers hooked while introducing them to the issues affecting contemporary Africa." -School Library Journal, starred review "Nonstop action will please thriller fans."--Bulletin
Children's Literature - Renee Farrah Vess
Jake and his sister Kas live a privileged life as the children of England's ambassador while in Burkina Faso, Africa. A large mansion, and invitations to elaborate parties are part of everyday life. But during a particular party where the guests actually ate gold, Jake and Kas are kidnapped. As they are driven away in the back of a van, they are able to contact their father through a cell phone. They give as many details of their captors as they can before the phone signal is lost. As they try to formulate a new plan, another group on horseback break Jake and Kas free of their captors. Jake and Kas ride off with them, and learn about Burkina Faso through the eyes of outlaws. They spend time at their camp, and see the struggles of everyday life, while their father and the government are apparently searching for the wrong man. Time is ticking for Jake to prove a man's innocence and to convince his father he has the wrong people on his side. There is violence, cursing, and deceit paired with cleverness, bravery, and Robin Hood-esque action. The violence would certainly be upsetting to younger readers, but would stir up the social activist in those who see hope and a better future in a world torn apart by corruption. Reviewer: Renee Farrah Vess
ALAN Review - Caroline Wilson
Jake Knight has the heart of an adventurer, but he is trapped in a suffocating British boarding school while his father, the British Ambassador to Burkina Faso, and the rest of his family lead far more exciting lives in Africa. After getting caught sneaking out of school, Jake gets suspended and is on the first flight out to Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, anxious to begin new adventures. Suddenly, Jake finds himself on more of an adventure than he bargained for when he is kidnapped and must fight for his life. Drawing on his own ingenuity and using every survival skill he has, Jake tries desperately to stay alive. He quickly realizes that his kidnappers aren't who they appear to be, but can he discover the truth before it's too late? Based on his own experiences living in Africa, Davies weaves a clever and suspenseful tale that will engage readers until the very end. Reviewer: Caroline Wilson
School Library Journal
Gr 5–8—Jake Knight, 15, is trapped in a stifling British boarding school while his sister gets to live in exotic Burkina Faso with their mother and father, who is the British ambassador. Then Jake gets caught breaking into a prison while playing a 21st-century version of a child's game that involves using GPS and is kicked out of school. What starts off as a promising vacation in West Africa goes violently awry when he and his sister are kidnapped by the alleged outlaw Yakuuba Sor. As they are staring down the barrel of a gun, they are saved by some young men and taken to the real Yakuuba Sor, an 18-year-old African Robin Hood. Jake soon realizes he is caught up in a deadly plot to bring the wrath of the British Empire down on this unsuspecting contemporary folk hero. Outlaw moves at a strikingly quick pace yet is not without humor. There are a number of high-tech elements, all explained in a way as to make them believable for the resources available in the desert. Davies alludes to corruption and a social system that favors the rich without any lengthy asides to detract from the story, making it subtly educational. This thriller is a great way to get readers hooked while introducing them to the issues affecting contemporary Africa.—Devin Burritt, Jackson Memorial Library, Tenants Harbor, ME
Kirkus Reviews
Kidnapped by outlaws in a small African country with some rough terrain, Jake and his sister Kas use their savvy to both get themselves free and make sure that the culprit is caught. Jake plays "geothimble," a game his friends invented that is similar to geocaching and involves a heap of physicality. In trouble for climbing into a prison as part of the game, Jake is sent home from his English boarding school to Burkina Faso, where his diplomat father is stationed, and is almost immediately kidnapped, along with his sister. The adults want to use all the resources at hand to free Jake and Kas, but it gradually becomes clear that this is not a straightforward crime; it calls for subtlety. The landscape and culture provide an intriguing setting without bogging down the fast-paced plot. Davies, a missionary who lives in Burkina Faso, credibly demonstrates that a place's seeming exoticism does not make it uncomplicated. Most characters that could have been stereotypes are pleasingly well-rounded, although the villains are definitely one-dimensional. Surprisingly, technology is a key ingredient in the unfolding events, and Jake's knowledge and skills are key to their survival. The outlaw at the heart of the plot, Yakuuba Sor, brings a heartening complexity and morality to this seldom-seen setting. Nonstop action in the African desert. (Adventure. 10-14)

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.10(d)
770L (what's this?)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

Jake Knight ran along the deserted towpath past Armley Mills and the industrial museum. It was two o’clock in the morning, and he was so far out of bounds it was not even funny. Of all the nocturnal quests that he had been on, tonight’s was the farthest from school. As for the clue, it was more cryptic than ever before: Idle persons shuffled here. Jake turned the phrase over and over in his mind, trying to tease some meaning from it.

A glimmer of moonlight reflected off the canal. Three smackheads loitered under the railway bridge ahead, kicking a Did You Witness This Crime? placard between them. Jake’s heart pounded as he approached the men. His black sweater and black tracksuit bottoms were hardly conspicuous, but silence was just as important as camouflage. Keep fast, he breathed, and light on your toes.

The loiterers did not see Jake until he was among them, and no sooner had they registered his presence than he was gone again, under the railway bridge and up the side of the embankment, clawing his way through thick undergrowth and stinging nettles, breathing the sweet, cloying smells of wet vegetation and festering litter. There was some angry shouting from the towpath below him, and a brief, fumbling attempt at pursuit.

Jake vaulted a wooden fence, crossed the railway line, and scrambled through a hedge into a housing development. How many miles had he run? Four? Five? He sprinted southeast between brooding tower blocks and came out onto Hall Lane. The boarded-up windows of Mike’s Carpets, Pet World, and Armley -Bingo Hall glared at him as he passed. Not far now.

Latitude was bang on, so all he needed now was to continue east until he hit the right longitude. The lane was rising steeply, and the cold air made him wheeze. The flashing blue dot on his screen crept inexorably eastward. Idle persons shuffled here. Idle persons shuffled here.

1° 34' 40" west. Perfect.

Jake put his hands on his knees and gasped for breath. Then he straightened up and looked around. To his left was a high brick wall. To his right was a cemetery with tombstones leaning crazily in the moonlight. Jake shivered and checked his latitude. He was a fraction too far south, which meant that the thing he sought was not in the cemetery.

A loud voice in his left ear made him jump. “You are now standing at Leeds Prison, formerly known as Armley Jail. Leeds is a Category B prison, which once incarcerated the murderous cat burglar Charles Peace.”

Jake took the earphone out of his left ear and slipped it into the money belt underneath his sweater. He had forgotten that HearPlanet was still running—it was a useful app, but annoying when it made you jump out of your skin.

So this was Leeds Prison, was it? He had seen it from the front, with its gleaming gates and slick visitors’ center, but never from the back. Here an imposing brick wall stood fully fourteen feet high, topped with coils of barbed wire. Beyond the wire loomed the jagged crenellations of the jail itself, a Gothic horror against an inky sky.

Idle persons shuffled here. Jake groaned. It was an anagram! Shuffle the letters idle persons and you got leeds prison. Griff must have lobbed the thimble over this very wall into the exercise yard beyond.

Jake and his mates in the dormitory had invented geo-thimble just a few weeks before, but it was fast becoming a craze, spreading to other houses and even other years. It was basically a high-tech version of the old-fashioned kids’ game hunt the thimble. Boys took turns borrowing an item from someone else—a shoe, a chocolate bar, a penknife, whatever—and hiding it in a remote location. If the owner wanted his “thimble” back, he would have to get it himself, aided only by a GPS reference and a cryptic clue. Tonight’s thimble, the object of Jake’s quest, was a cardboard folder containing his geography project, which was due to be handed in the next day.

Thimbling a prison was cunning, just like Griff, but it was within the rules. Only last week Jake had slid Griff’s watch into a mailbox on the other side of town, forcing -Griff to wait until the early-morning collection and plead with a mailman. If this was Griff’s revenge, so be it. Jake knew he would have to go for it. He had no intention of getting a failing grade this time.

Jake exited map mode and switched on his phone’s flashlight to examine the barbed wire along the parapet. At one point there seemed to be a small gap between the bricks and the wire. With a bit of pushing and wriggling, perhaps he could get through. As for the fourteen-foot-high brick wall—well, that was also doable. He had something of a reputation among the thimblers.

Jake Knight’s a legend. He can walk up walls.

Three years previously, Jake had watched his first YouTube wall run and had decided to master wall running himself. It was the urban cool and the challenge that attracted him, but also the philosophy. Walls were bad news. Walls were the enemy of exploration. Walls proclaimed: Beyond this point you may not tread. Wall running was about breaking those boundaries, mastering your environment—and yes, if truth be told, impressing your mates.

Jake stepped back and took three deep breaths, rehearsing the stunt in his mind. Then he ran toward the wall with short quick strides. His eyes were not on the wall itself but on the parapet above. Don’t focus on where you are was his wall-run mantra. Focus on where you want to be. He gradually built up the power of his steps and jumped off his right foot. I’m a spring, he thought, a tightly coiled spring. He placed his left foot at chest level and launched himself upward, scrabbling with his hands to gain extra height. Another small kick from his right foot, and—reach!—he grabbed the parapet with both hands. Made it.

Jake dangled from the wall, gathering all his force for the final part of the move. Explosive energy was what was needed now. And—liftoff! He pulled with both arms and pushed with the balls of his feet. A second later the adventurer was lying along the top of the parapet, his quads and biceps burning, barbed wire tugging at his clothes, looking down into the well-lit exercise yard of Leeds Prison.

The Chameleon stood in the shadows near the back of the crowd. He was eighteen years old and he wore a black cloak with a deep hood. He watched and listened as Sheikh Ahmed Abdullai Keita performed.

The sheikh’s reputation had preceded him. All along the edge of the Sahara Desert, people spoke in awed whispers about the miracle man on the white stallion. Now he had arrived in the border town Mondoro, in the south of Mali, and he was doing what he did best. Miracles.

The sheikh sat on a straw mat in front of the chief’s hut. He wore purple robes and a white prayer hat embroidered with sequins. Two braided locks of hair hung down, one on either side of his face. He had a short, pointed beard.

“People of Mondoro!” cried the sheikh. “The djinns of the desert and the djinns of the air are here in power. Prepare yourselves for a visitation.”

Ranged in a semicircle around the sheikh stood the villagers, their cheeks slack with wonder. In the last two hours the sheikh had sucked the malaria out of a sick man, made dozens of cola nuts disappear, and conjured a disembodied floating head out of thin air. Now he got up and ran through the crowd toward his magnificent stallion. “Behold!” he cried. “The djinns of the air are coming to bear me aloft on their warm, invisible hands.”

With his arms stretched out on either side, the sheikh lifted into the air and hung there about two feet off the ground. The crowd behind him gasped. There was nervous laughter and cries of “Allahu akbar!”—“God is great!” Some cupped hands over their faces in pious supplication.

At the back of the crowd the Chameleon narrowed his eyes and drew his cloak around him more tightly. It’s an illusion, he thought. But how does he do it?

The sheikh rose a little farther in the air and put his left foot into the nearside stirrup. Then he swung his right leg over the horse’s back, sat down gently, and straightened his robe.

Allahu akbar!” The cries rose on the night air.

The sheikh shook his head from side to side so that his locks swung like pendulums. Then he began to laugh—a deep, resonant laugh.

“The djinns of the desert mock you,” he said. “You think you prosper, but tragedy is near.”

“What tragedy?” The question rippled through the crowd.

“You look at the sky and grin, and you say to each other: In a few short weeks the rains will begin and we will sow our seed. Not so, fools! The djinns have hatched a plan. They will withhold the rain you long for. Not a drop of water will fall on Mondoro. Not a single stalk of millet will grow under the sun. Not a single peanut will form in the ground. From every eye salt water will flow.”

“Is there nothing we can do?” asked one man. “Perhaps if we give the djinns more cola nuts—”

“Silence!” shouted the sheikh. “There is only one sacrifice that will appease the djinns of the desert. The sacrifice the djinns demand is this: fifty healthy young goats and fifty healthy young sheep. They must be taken to Senegal and sacrificed in the shallow waters of Lake Soum.”

“Lake Soum?” said one. “I’ve never even heard of it!”

“Senegal is hundreds of miles away!” cried another.

“I will take pity on you,” said the sheikh. “Have the animals ready by sunrise tomorrow. I will take them to Senegal and perform the sacrifice myself.”

That night the women of Mondoro wept bitterly. Sheikh Ahmed has demanded almost all the animals in the village, they said. What will be left for our children and our children’s children? A handful of old, sick goats and nothing more.

The men were adamant. We are lucky, they said, that the sheikh warned us of the djinns’ intention. It will hurt us to pay what the djinns demand, but we have no choice. We cannot risk a whole year’s harvest. There is no such thing as an easy sacrifice.

The men prevailed, and the next morning Sheikh Ahmed Abdullai Keita went on his way with fifty sheep and fifty goats. As soon as he was out of sight of the villagers, he entrusted the animals to one of his servants, ordering him to take the animals to a faraway market and sell them for hard cash.

Crouching behind a nearby acacia bush, the Chameleon observed the whole exchange. He tutted quietly and swore that he would teach this charlatan a lesson.

Meet the Author

Stephen Davies, a missionary, lives with his wife and daughter among Fulani cattle herders in West Africa. He has been involved in the setup of a Fulfulde radio station which will broadcast news, griot music, and agricultural advice. In 2003 he won Africa Geographic's "Travel Writer of the Year" competition and in 2006 received the Glen Dimplex New Writers Children's Book Award. This is his second novel to be published in the U.S. He also writes "Letters from Burkina Faso" for the Guardian Weekly and occasionally for the Sunday (London) Times. His website is www.voiceinthedesert.org.uk.

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Outlaw 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you liked this book, try Alex Rider. I wish this bok had more fighting scenes.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really liked this book, and would definitely recommend it to those parkour loving geeks like me. I have to admit, though, its not one o the best books ive read. Sure, its a fast paced, action packed story, but it needs that little extra something. Im not really sure what that something is...
adamH More than 1 year ago
It was great, I love the plans Jake made at the last second. Overall, very fun.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ausonius More than 1 year ago
The 2011 novel OUTLAW was written for 12-year olds by Stephen Davies, a married English Christian missionary resident in Burkina Faso -- a West African country called Upper Volta when it was a French colony. This children's book is disturbingly and graphically violent. It also trumpets none too subtly a number of value-laden political messages. *** The underlying didactic message is that Burkina Faso (call it BF for short) is far less independent than it should be. Western consortia that control its gold mines exert an immoral influence on a government too easily tempted by easy money to do justice to its people. And a notably brainless British diplomatic presence lends itself more or less unwittingly to schemes by evil people inside BF government to use Britain's smart bombs to wipe out a group of rebellious Robin Hood wannabe youngsters out for justice. *** That is a lot of didactic baggage for a novel about a spoiled 15-year old English boy named Jake Knight and his idealistic 13-year old sister Kirsty kidnapped allegedly in order to force Britain to release political prisoners. Jake and Kirsty are the offspring of the British Ambassador and his bee-keeping wife (keep your eye on those bees!). The Police Commissioner of BF is the deadly enemy of 18-year old African Yakuuba Sor aka The Chameleon who leads the young idealists calling themselves Friends of the Poor. The Commissioner is behind the kidnapping, designed to put the blame on innocent Yakuuba Sor and induce HM's Goverment to annihilate Friends of the Poor. *** The evil plot comes uncomfortably close to succeeding. Consider one of the unwitting but willing British tools of the evil BF schemers. His name is Roy Dexter, "MI6 officer," blue eyed, square jawed "and his long sun bleached hair was tied back in a ponytail" (Ch. 16). He has flown in from London to help the Ambassador retrieve his kidnapped son and daughter. But Roy Dexter announces an additional mission "to kill Yakuuba Sor." Dexter appears frightened. Earlier torture in Turkmenistan convinced him that in the future he must shoot first, ask questions later. To trace the children, Dexter will use a four centimeter long rhinoceros beetle with embedded tracing device. It is called HI-MEMS, short for Hybrid Insect-Micro-Electro-Mechanical-System." *** After many adventures, Dexter's beetle leads him to a hospital where the children are attending to an injured associate of the real Yakuuba Sor who has rescued them from the pretended Yakuuba Sor, the kidnapper. Roy Dexter refuses to listen to the children's explanation of what really happened. Before their eyes and in cold blood, Dexter first fires his pistol at a drip bag delivering vital medicine to a wounded youngster, then shoots him dead, then shoots the attending doctor in the stomach, then another patient. Yakuuba Sor escapes and brings the children back to the British Embassy in Ougadougou. There a disbelieving Jake re-encounters the murderous Roy Dexter. Dexter is "licensed to kill" and the British Foreign Office has accepted his account of necessary "collateral damage" in rescuing the children. *** There is one more hi-tech close call from a British smart bomb before Jake and Yakuuba live to fight again another day. But I leave that reading to you. I find this a very average adventure tale for 12-year old readers, needlessly bloody and preachy. -OOO-
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thr begining is a little boring, but it is really intense and gripping in the middle and end.