Blood Red Road by Moira Young (Dust Lands #1)

Saba has spent her whole life in Silverlake, a dried-up wasteland ravaged by constant sandstorms. The Wrecker civilization has long been destroyed, leaving only landfills for Saba and her family to scavenge from. That’s fine by her, as long as her beloved twin brother Lugh is around. But when a monster sandstorm arrives, along with four cloaked horsemen, Saba’s world is shattered. Lugh is captured, and Saba embarks on an epic quest to get him back.

Suddenly thrown into the lawless, ugly reality of the world outside of desolate Silverlake, Saba is lost without Lugh to guide her. So perhaps the most surprising thing of all is what Saba learns about herself: she’s a fierce fighter, an unbeatable survivor, and a cunning opponent. And she has the power to take down a corrupt society from the inside. Teamed up with a handsome daredevil named Jack and a gang of girl revolutionaries called the Free Hawks, Saba stages a showdown that will change the course of her own civilization.

Blood Red Road has a searing pace, a poetically minimal writing style, violent action, and an epic love story. Moira Young is one of the most promising and startling new voices in teen fiction.

SPOILERS

From the start, my willingness to enjoy the book was marred by Saba’s voice. She tells the story in a sparse, blunt manner, a style that tends to be indicative of isolation and functional illiteracy. This wouldn’t be a problem if I hadn’t been in the middle of the Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness. Unfortunately, Saba sounds pretty similar to Todd, and Todd’s voice is a whole lot more compelling in terms of the story he’s telling and the stakes involved. It’s not that Saba’s voice wasn’t done well or that her story wasn’t worthwhile in its own right. It’s more that these two authors use similar language to do very different things, and Patrick Ness’ usage works a lot better. The way Todd speaks and narrates his story is directly connected to the existence of Noise and how it’s used as a weapon of control. With this book, the language is less tied to the actual  plot and is more of an offshoot of the fact that this world is a post-apocalyptic, lawless version of Earth with most people living in isolation from each other. In short, Blood Red Road is primarily an adventure story. It’s not fair to expect this book to be the same thing as the Chaos Walking trilogy, but that didn’t stop me being sad about the lack of depth and nuance that the trilogy possesses.

On its own though, the stylistic choices with regards to the language work well and helped to root Saba into the world she’s a part of. For the most part, I liked her a good deal. She’s a tough, strong person who does what needs to be done and won’t let anything distract from her mission of saving her twin brother Lugh. Also I enjoyed her and Emmi’s budding relationship and charting how Saba’s world shifts from seeing Emmi solely as a nuisance and distraction from finding Lugh, the person she actually cares about, to fearing just as much for Emmi’s safety as his and realizing just how much Emmi cares for Saba because she’s her sister. This was the kind of story where I could easily see it being told through Emmi’s POV, that’s how much of a presence she had. She’s a scrappy girl.

However, while the writing worked well for Saba as a character, it didn’t do great things for the world-building. I get that since it’s post-apocalyptic to the point that no one knows what the world was like previously.  However, the world as it is now was barely fleshed out. How did the King even manage to become the king in the first place? What benefit does he get out of having complete control over a town of thugs and criminals? What purpose does it serve to keep everyone drugged up on chaal? I didn’t see the point of why the king existed, nor did it make sense why he believed that every six years he needed to make a human sacrifice every six years on Midsummer. Everyone thinks he’s crazy, so why the hell are the Tonton even supporting him? Even at the end of the book when they rescue Lugh and kill the king, nothing seems altered after his death. Apparently there’s going to be a sequel, so maybe we’ll learn why the king was important and a threat in the first place? I could have done with this information now.

And the romance was flat-out horrible. That heartstone. God, how I hated it. I kept waiting for it to be some piece of technology (or magic) that would help to explain why it supposedly became hot whenever you drew closer to your heart’s desire. But no. It had to be used to get Saba a love interest, and it had to be the type where she sees Jack once and immediately feels all weird and tingly and oh my god, why does he make me feel this way!? And of course, Saba immediately acts hostile towards him and tells him to go away, but Jack’s so compelled by her that he can’t help but follow her because he’s convinced there’s something between them. WTF? It’s poorly written and reads so much like the stereotypical romances currently being written in YA paranormal romance. I was not pleased AT ALL.

Taken on its own merits, it’s a fun adventure story. The writing is quick and fun to read, Saba’s a cool heroine in her own right, and the rest of the characters aren’t so bad either. However, the practically nonexistent world building and the love story killed a lot of appreciation I might have had for the book. Which is a shame, as Saba is the kind of female protagonist I wish more YA authors would write, particularly given the dystopia fad going on. I don’t think I’ll be continuing with the sequel – I could have dealt with the world building, but bad romance just pisses me off.

Disclosure – library

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