Title: Blood Red Road
Author: Moira Young
Genre: Adventure, Post-Apocalyptic, Speculative Fiction, Young Adult
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry (Simon & Schuster)
Publication Date: June 2011
Hardcover: 459 pages
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.
Stand alone or series: Book 1 in the Dustlands series
How did I get this book: ARC from the Publisher
Why did I read this book: Blood Red Road received a whole lotta pre-publication buzz (being optioned for film by none other than Ridley Scott!), and I had some seriously high hopes for this book. SUCH high hopes, in fact, that I didn’t want to disappoint myself. I didn’t want to read the book until the time was juuuuust right. So I pushed it off. And I pushed it off. And then, holy crow, somehow it became December before I knew it, and FINALLY it was time. I like waiting until the end of the year to read the really, really good ones – what can I say?
Lugh got born first. On Midwinter Day when the sun hangs low in the sky. Then me. Two hours later.
That pretty much says it all.
Lugh goes first, always first, an I follow on behind.
An that’s fine.
That’s how it’s meant to be.
Since their birth, twins Saba and Lugh have never been separated. After their mother dies birthing their little sister Emmi and their father loses reason, Lugh and Saba still stick together, making what home they can in Silverlake, even as the lake dries up and the unforgiving desert claims a little more land each day. Lugh is the light to Saba’s dark, the morning to her night. He goes first, and everyone listens to him. As long as they’re together, that’s all that matters to Saba. That’s how it has always been, and how it always should be.
But then, on the heels of a devastating dust storm, a group of hooded men ride into their isolated home, killing their father and taking Lugh as their prisoner. Enraged and determined, eighteen year old Saba vows that she will find her brother and bring him home. With her stubborn nine year old sister Emmi in tow, Saba sets off across a desert wasteland to find Lugh, no matter the cost.
I am glad, my dear fellow readers. I am so glad that, like a miserly kid protecting her Lunchable desert Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, I hoarded this book until the very end of the year. Because Blood Red Road? It’s everything I wanted. And then some.
Moira Young’s debut novel is breathtakingly cinematic, both in description and in the pace of action, and it’s easy to see why the film rights for the novel were scooped up so quickly (and by the illustrious Ridley Scott, no less) prior to publication. Reminiscent of old Hollywood Westerns (starring Saba as gunslinger), blended with a generous influence of Mad Max (Blood Red Road manages to embrace and pay homage to *both* the Road Warrior AND Beyond Thunderdome incarnations) and Ridley Scott’s own Gladiator, tossed with one part impossible visual fantasy (at one point evoking that Adventures of Tintin trailer with a giant ship sailing over a sand dune sea), Young’s Blood Red Road is a feast for the imagination. The story is, by definition, a dystopian and a post-apocalyptic novel, set in the dusty aftermath of “Wreckers” (aka our current high-tech society) who have ruined the world with their technology.1 Entire civilizations are swept under ever shifting layers of sand and dust, and the Earth is a parched, brutal place under the rule of a mad King who controls his minions with fear and an addictive drug called chaal. But beyond the sweeping desert vistas, the post-apocalyptic wasteland, and the non-stop action, the novel truly excels because of its characterizations – particularly Saba’s character arc.
Wholly narrated in a style that eschews proper grammar, spelling and punctuation, the writing is – somehow, and don’t ask me how Moira Young did it – absolutely fantastic. It’s the kind of writing style that in less adroit hands could have become quickly tiresome and grating, and I’m usually the first person to run screaming from this type of persistent narrative device. And yet, in Blood Red Road it simply worked. Saba’s voice and her narrative are so deeply, powerfully intertwined that there’s never the slightest doubt that the dialect is genuine. This, dirty diction is completely, unequivocally Saba. And I loved it. How could I not fall in love with a prickly, stubborn, hardass heroine like Saba?
We’re on our own. An I feel calm. It seems crazy . . . but I’m calm. Because now I see what I gotta do. An what I ain’t gotta do, which is waste time thinkin that anybody’s gonna help us. That somebody’s gonna come along an rescue us. I cain’t count on nobody but me.
Brash, abrasive, and deeply flawed – especially when it comes to the treatment of her baby sister – Saba is not a heroine that is particularly easy to love. Take the above quote, for example. Saba’s strength and self reliance is admirable2, but I also love that Ms. Young explores the other side of the equation – because as strong as Saba is, she must learn to accept and appreciate others – in fact, she needs others. I loved this gradual change over the course of the book, best shown in Saba’s relationship with Emmi – which stems from mutual dislike, to frustration, to desperation, to unconditional love.
There are a whole slew of wonderful secondary characters, too, from the fierce warrior women Free Hawks (who I loved intensely), to the villainous Pinch family, to the mysteriously mixed-motivated Tonton, to the wise crow Nero, to the cunning, charming, utterly winsome Jack. The romance built between Saba and Jack is, perhaps, a shade too convenient and quick, but I ate it up just the same.3
Blood Red Road has been compared to The Hunger Games – and I can see shades of Katniss in Saba, though if I’m being completely honest, I think I prefer the self-honesty of Saba. To me, the better comparison is Patrick Ness’s ineffable Chaos Walking books: not only because of prose and voice, not only because of action, but because of the near identical raw stubborn toughness and vulnerability of protagonists Saba and Todd.
For fans of characters and post-apocalyptic dystopias in the vein of Patrick Ness; for fans of action blended seamlessly with compelling, human character arcs; for readers yearning for a new heroine to cheer for wholeheartedly, Blood Red Road is for you.
Absolutely recommended, and undeniably on my list of favorite books of 2011.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter 1:
The day’s hot. So hot an so dry that all I can taste in my mouth is dust. The kinda white heat daywhen you can hear th’earth crack.
We ain’t had a drop of rain fer near six months now. Even the spring that feeds the lake’s startinto run dry. You gotta walk some ways out now to fill a bucket. Pretty soon, there won’t be no point in callin it by its name.
Every day Pa tries another one of his charms or spells. An every day, big bellied raincloudsgather on the horizon. Our hearts beat faster an our hope rises as they creep our way. But, well before they reach us, they break apart, thin out an disappear. Every time.
Pa never says naught. He jest stares at the sky, the clear cruel sky. Then he gathers up the stonesor twigs or whatever he’s set out on the ground this time, an puts ’em away fer tomorrow.
Now, he shoves his hat back. Tips his head up an studies the sky fer a long while.
I do believe I’ll try a circle today, he says. Yuh, I reckon a circle might be jest the thing.
Lugh’s bin sayin it fer a while now. Pa’s gittin worse. Mind you, he ain’t bin right fer a long time. Not since Ma died. But with every dry day that passes, every dead fish we pull outta the lake,every thin beast we pull outta our traps, a little bit more of Pa seems to … I guess disappear’s the best word fer it. His eyes look more’n more to the sky instead of what’s right here in front of him.
I don’t think he even sees us no more. Not really.
You can read the full excerpt online HERE.
Rating: 9 – Awesomesauce
Reading Next: Human.4 by Mike A. Lancaster
Buy the Book:
- Again, this is all very Mad Max-ian. In a good way! A VERY good way. ↩
- And I loved this particular quote which makes me want to pump my fist in the air and scream TAKE THAT, PASSIVE YA HEROINES! ↩
- So who else has read the book and wants to know what is going on with our mysterious Tonton leader? Hmm? ↩