Category Archives: Dustlands

Review: Blood Red Road by Moira Young

In a lawless future land, where life is cheap and survival is hard, Saba has been brought up in isolated Silverlake. She never sees the dangers of the destructive society outside. When her twin brother is snatched by mysterious black-robed riders, she sets outon an epic quest to rescue him. The story’s searing pace, its spare style, the excitement of its fabulously damaged world, its unforgettably vivid characters, its violent action and glorious lovestory make this a truly sensational YA debut novel.

Blood Red Road (Dustlands #1) by Moira Young

Release Date: 2 June 2011
Read Date: 17 October 2011
Rating:

A post-apocalyptic western with a touch of sci-fi and the paranormal. No speech marks and a writing style that does not include good spelling, punctuation or grammar. You might be enticed by the former and horrified by the latter but it’s okay, seriously, don’t be put off by it. I didn’t notice it after the first few pages.

In case, I’m losing you and you’re thinking this isn’t for you, it has:

~ Cage-fighting

~ Giant killer worms

~ Strong female characters (Feminists, you will love them)

~ A male love interest with balls, not just empty sacks.

Saba’s voice and personality are unique. She’s a strong woman with flaws. Real flaws. But she’s also extremely loyal and vulnerable. After horsemen attack her family and kidnap her twin brother Lugh 18-year-old Saba cares about nothing and no one but getting him back. She pushes everyone away. She doesn’t have time to make friends or allies – they’re only means to an end. Finding Lugh is everything. Nothing else matters. Or does it?

Enter Jack.

I was worried about Jack. At first, I thought he was going to be the typical weak YA hero bringing lovey-dovey romance to the book which would’ve been inappropriate but I needn’t have worried. Jack oozes charm and provides light-hearted banter but there are moments when you see his deeper side. He confronts Saba with the truth about herself, forces her to face it, and it hurts. It hurts a lot. He says her 9-year-old sister Emmi would be better off with him than Saba because she cares so little for her and her feelings.

Saba’s never been able to forgive Emmi for killing their mother during childbirth and as a result breaking their father’s heart and robbing him of his sanity. Many times she’s tried to leave Emmi behind with someone she trusts to keep her safe, like she promised her father and brother, during the immensely dangerous journey over wasteland and through barbaric towns but Emmi knows Saba will never return so she always catches up to her. She endures Saba’s mean streak, she stubbornly wants to help find Lugh but she suffers for it. And that’s when Saba starts to realise how badly she’s treated Emmi, when she’s forced to watch someone beat her, unable to protect her, when Jack shows Saba how to patiently interact with Emmi without constantly berating her. Before, Saba only had a twin brother and now she finally has a little sister. It’s heart-warming. I loved it.

Saba gains friends in the Free Hawks, a group of female bandits but she won’t accept their friendship and loyalty. If someone’s going to risk their life, it’s going to be her and her alone. It’s her mission, no one else’s. Even Jack, who you can tell is desperate to get close to Saba is pushed away, often physically. He’s a brave man, chasing a dangerous woman. Saba won’t allow herself feelings for anyone because she’s afraid it will make her weak and distract her from finding Lugh.

Apart from the expert characterisation and development, the writing itself is exemplary. It’s emotive and though some might say it’s sparse on description you still feel the burning hot sun on your skin and know the loneliness of the deadly unending desert. You fear for Saba’s safety, knowing she’s grown up in isolation, and you’re just waiting for something terrible to befall her. It’s intense reading to begin with, building up to something, you just know it but I never found the explosions I was looking forward to; of passion, of realisation, of relief. It didn’t quite happen for me. I think more could’ve been made of the occasions when lives were in danger and of the grief when they were lost, like it was in the beginning.

And the end left me wanting. Everyone went their separate ways. The characters may have grown but I thought they’d learned that being together as one group meant they were stronger as a whole so I expected them to remain together at least until the fallout of recent events blew over.

As for the plot, saving Lugh involved a deadly superstitious ritual by an insane power-hungry king who rules by doping his police force (the Tonton) with a drug called Chaal, grown by slaves who are also under its influence, and sold to the general public. In small amounts it gets you high –slow and calm, in higher doses it makes you feral, rabid, blood-thirsty.

I didn’t envision the book taking the turns that it did. There were too many convenient coincidences and the need to defeat a crazy dictator, predictable. At times all this felt ludicrous but I tried to keep in mind that there is no “society” now. No infrastructure to speak of. No law and order. It was every man for himself. It was dog eat dog. The survival of the fittest. Any man could build an empire and call himself a king. We’ve regressed back to the times of the Wild West, perhaps even before then. The height of technology is the bow and arrows. Anything more advanced is regarded as “Wrecker tech”. The Wreckers, I’m assuming, is us now. I’m presuming something wiped out much of the world’s population and people left the cities for the country in order survive on the land. I’m got the feeling that this is set in either Australia or the US because of the skyscraper graveyards and the vast deserts.

The paranormal elements are mysterious. You’re not quite sure if they’re real or silly superstition, for instance when Saba’s father reading the future in the stars, or the Heartstone that remains cold until you meet your heart’s desire, when it burns hot. The giant killer worms are mutant creatures evolved from the dumping of illegal chemicals into a mountain lake back in Wrecker times, are mucho scary.

Despite my gripes with this book, I do think it’s worth reading. If you liked Katniss’s strength and survival instinct in The Hunger Games, enjoy the depiction of REAL men and characters that experience tough times and grow from them, then this is for you.

3.5 stars.

ETA: I’ve just seen “Tremors“. Giant killer worms, people, giant killer worms! They will get you in the end. I see where Young got her inspiration.

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