Outcast U.S.A.
Author: Michelle Paver
Illustrator: Geoff Taylor
Country: United Kingdom
Language: English
Publisher: Orion Children's Books
Published Date: 2007
Pages: 319 pp (first edition, hardback)
Preceded by: Soul Eater
Followed by: Oath Breaker

Outcast is the fourth book in the series Chronicles of Ancient Darkness by Michelle Paver.


SPOILERS! Read at your own risk!

It was a mistake. They weren't supposed to find out-- not until he told them.

Perhaps it was because he had hidden it that they didn't trust him anymore.

Perhaps that was why they drove him out, the black circle of shame upon his forehead. A black circle resembling the marks that were given as a rite of death.

"The outcast shall be as one dead."

The three-pronged fork of the Soul Eater is tattooed on Torak's chest; it has been there for moons. Afraid, he waits for the right moment to tell. He is too cautious. They find out first-- and cast him out. They tattoo the black symbol of the outcast on his forehead, burn all his possessions, including the strip of wolfskin that marks him as a Wolf Clan member, and give him his bow, three arrows and twenty-four hours. After that, he can be hunted by anyone and killed on sight.

Although she has every chance to hate her outcast friend, Renn is instead furious, and also confused after the Wolf Clan leader says that Torak actually has no clan, does not belong to Wolf Clan. She finds Torak and tells him the rite to cut out the tattoo. Torak forbids her to do any more, but Renn becomes angry and tells him that it's her choice.

Renn talks to Saeunn. She's been seeing signs. Two young deer had purposely attracted her attention in the forest; she'd almost been killed by an elk that was possessed by the soul of Torak. She asks Saeunn to help her open her mind completely. Saeunn refuses, saying that Renn's power had recently increased tenfold and to do this, when her power was still raw, could be extremely dangerous to her and to others.

After telling Fin-Kedinn, she begins to set out after Torak, to find him and help him, when she finds Bale, Torak's other best friend (and distantly related kin) from the Seal Clan. Bale is also intending to set out after him, but he roughly tells Renn that it's a woman's place to stay at home and tells her to go back while he goes alone. Enraged, Renn tells him off and finally, after accidentally tearing his skinboat, Bale grudgingly lets her travel with him, on the basis that Renn knows more about the Forest.

Meanwhile, Torak cuts out his Soul Eater tattoo, but slowly becomes soul-sick after Seshru the Viper Mage captures his name-stone that once belonged to Renn, that he had stolen back. He had also stolen Fin-Kedinn's greenstone axe-- a crime that could be severely punished. As he sickens and Renn and Bale begin to lose their way, Seshru's shadow ever looms...

Torak wanders into Otter Clan territory and barely escapes with his life. His soul-sickness becomes worse and worse. Renn finds a fish with two heads-- another sign. Renn and Bale are given a vital piece of information by the Otter Clan. The Otter Clan mage (or rather 'mages') claim that Renn has strength; but later Dyrati, who married into that Clan, basically tells Renn that 'we always knew that you were different, dangerous-- you with your black, black eyes and dreams that come true! Keep your distance! -- Everyone around you comes to harm. Your father died in the ice river; your brother killed by the bear; Torak outcast! Someone had better tell the Seal boy before it's too late!'

Torak is almost completely taken by the soul-sickness. Bale rows the skinboat out on the Lake, which is wildly raging in a storm. As he struggles to keep it above water, Renn finds the courage to stand up and have a battle of wills with Seshru the Viper Mage. Keeping her balance, she engages in a terrible battle of the spirit as she chants a spell in Magecraft to help Torak, wherever he is. But Seshru forces Renn's spirit down, again and again. Bale, in the meantime, is having a hard time with the boat, and it takes all of his skill now as the storm bears down upon them...

Which will win?

During what is most likely the same storm, Torak crouches in a poorly made shelter, hearing hailstones pounding down on the roof. Then something wet and much larger lands on it.

Renn's spell worked.

Torak finds two ravens, Rip and Rek, who slowly 'nurse' his spirit back to health. Then Torak finds the wolf pack, including Wolf, and is accepted into it.

Things start to look up.

Then Seshru arrives.

Kidnapping Torak. Forcing him to spirit walk into her Clan animal, the viper. Controlling his mind that is inside the viper.

Almost killing Renn in her sleep.

It all comes together. The three friends find each other. Finally, together, they can defeat Seshru, can't they? Can Bale, with his physical skill, Torak, with his spirit walking and strength of destiny, and Renn, with her recently increased mage powers and total determination, win against this woman?

Seshru breaks that bond as easily as snapping her fingers. She simply gives Torak a piece of information: she is Renn's mother.

Terrified and betrayed, Torak runs away from Renn.

Furious and frightened, Renn runs from Torak.

Bewildered and angry, Bale tries to run after both of them. He was the only one who realized what Seshru had just done.

Renn steals a boat and sets out on the Lake. She is found by Seshru in the middle of the night. Convinced that she will die, Renn faces her mother with all the courage she has. Afterwards, she finds the courage to open her mind completely, no matter the consequences. Wolf, Renn, Bale and Torak finally end up back together after Renn reads the signs and realizes that all along, small, the signs (twin foals, two-headed fish) all came together and now Seshru is going to unleash a flood on them that will kill almost all the Clans. (This works because the signs point to two lakes: the Lake and the other lake behind the ice that is building up pressure.)

After Renn and Bale run to safety and Torak warns the Clans, the flood passes and all gather again. Torak now faces his final judgment. Will he be accepted? Just when he thinks it's all over, Fin-Kedinn steps in and claims him as his foster son.

Now Seshru comes.

Just recently before, Torak, Rip and Rek had found a fire opal in the hilt of Torak's knife. Now he takes out the fire opal to prove his innocence once and for all, and Seshru is here. She orders him to give it to her.

He places it on a rock.

Three things happen.

He raises another rock to smash the opal. Seshru lunges. Renn aims at her mother, her hand shaking.

The vital moment and it could all go wrong. Is Renn faltering? Can she kill her own mother?

It would be wrong, terribly wrong, no matter how evil Seshru is.

Bale kills Seshru.

Torak smashes the opal.

The opal and Seshru die together. The opal can die only if it takes a life with it. Wolf chases Seshru's soul out of the clearing.

Renn puts the Death Marks on her mother, and is therefore tainted from touching the dead. As she looks on, lonely, at the ceremony that is now happening in celebration, an Otter Clan man places a gift at her feet, thanking her for her part in saving his Lake.

Renn and Torak reconcile. Both know each other a little better now. The secrets that they had once kept from everyone are now in the open. Renn asks Torak whose life he intended to give the fire-opal, and it turns out he didn't plan to have Seshru die with it, implying that he was thinking about giving himself up to destroy it (connecting back to Renn's near-sacrifice in Soul Eater.) Torak asks Renn if she would have killed her mother if Bale hadn't, but though she answers "yes," she looks away and says it through her teeth.

It's ended well this time-- but what happens next, with the fifth Soul-Eater, Thiazzi? Read Oath Breaker to find out...

Notes about the book and the charactersEdit

Interestingly, this reader got the impression that Renn plays an even greater role in this book than in any of the others (and that's saying something, seeing that Renn is one of the main characters anyway.) You really get to know her as the book has a major plot point that revolves around her. We realize that she has more secrets and a far darker past than ever imagined. The 'sharp-toothed grin' that is mentioned several times now takes on a darker tone when we realize that she was once in preparation to become a tokoroth. She grows up in several ways, her adolescent growth also adding on to her mage-powers, meaning that she is now far more powerful than ever before. We see her courage and complexity.

Torak also significantly grows up, and it is implied he is hitting his growth spurt as well as Renn. He also matures emotionally, though when you study the characters it seems like he is developing emotionally later than Renn (making it realistic, with the boy/girl difference) but also becomes more likable. We empathize with him through his soul-sickness and his frustration, sharing his anger at being outcast, and his fear of Seshru. His emotional development is marked, especially when he wonders earlier whether he'd ever be able to make the kind of sacrifice Renn was going to in Soul Eater, and then, at the end of the book, getting up the courage to do that very thing-- give up his life to destroy the opal. Luckily he doesn't have to do that...

We see more of Bale, who almost entirely overcomes his initial prejudice against Renn, though he does say near the end that she wouldn't be able to make the skinboat trip. This may, however, be more attributed to her physical state at the time (she was exhausted from opening her mind and she had also swallowed a bunch of swampy water.) We see his genuine brotherly bond with Torak and his growing respect and also affection for Renn. He is empathetic, recognizing that Renn may not be able to murder her mother, no matter how much she hates her. He is far more likable and is no longer simply a muscular bully but a caring person.

Seshru is... interesting. Renn tells her own story and this increases our caring for Renn herself, and in turn increases our dislike of Seshru. Seshru is a wonderfully crafted and complex character, possibly the most interesting of the Soul-Eaters, along with maybe Nef. She provides a contrast to the others, especially Thiazzi. She uses her very vulnerability to bring herself to power. 'Can you hurt an unarmed woman?' she asks Bale. 'No. That would be the mark of a coward, and you're a Seal Clan hunter. You're strong.' She says this as she mocks them, knowing that she can at any moment tear them apart. She uses an invisible, almost unperceivable but incredibly strong grip of power to control: the Otter Clans, Torak, Bale and Renn. She slowly destroys the Otter Clan while she herself appears to them as a sick and terrified woman. But before she turned Soul Eater, she was a Viper Clan woman like any other, with a mate and child. Though she is cruel to Renn, all mothers feel a bond with their children. Renn and Hord were her children. Did she at any point love them? Of course, all mothers do. But then... how?