Blood Red Road (Dust Lands #1) by Moira Young (2011)
YA Fiction | Post-Apocalypse | Western
“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 four cloaked horsemen capture Lugh, Saba’s world is shattered, and she embarks on a quest to get him back.
Suddenly thrown into the lawless, ugly reality of the outside world, Saba discovers she is a fierce fighter, an unbeatable survivor, and a cunning opponent. Teamed up with a handsome daredevil named Jack and a gang of girl revolutionaries called the Free Hawks, Saba’s unrelenting search for Lugh stages a showdown that will change the course of her own civilization.”
pooled ink Review:
They said you were the Angel of Death, he says. He takes a step towards me, blood gushin out from between his fingers. I didn’t believe them.
Saba just might be one of the most likeable unlikeable protagonists I’ve ever met. Her personality is so no-nonsense, thorny, and off-putting, yet because this story is told from her POV I find I really like her anyway. She really grows on you and by the end she becomes one of my favorite book characters 🙂
On the real, I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump. Sure I’ve pushed on but nothing’s really clicked and for a good fifty pages I couldn’t connect with this book either. I’d read a sampler maybe two years ago and was instantly drawn in so I was bummed that that spark didn’t return now that I had the complete book in my hands. I was tempted to return it to the library and try again some other time when suddenly it clicked. All at once it came rushing back into me. This book is addicting, bloody, exciting, incredibly fierce, stubborn, captivating, and it tells one hell of a story.
The concept for this book is truly interesting. Young takes the post-apocalyptic theme (something commonly pondered) and zooms in to focus on one person living within it only to have her tiny insignificant life end up linked to something far greater than she could have ever imagined. Okay fine, so in broad strokes it’s not that original. But it is. The setting is fascinating, the society in this world is vivid and captivating, and the characters not only tie it all together but they bring it all to life.
Saba in particular is a unique character choice for a protagonist. We’re supposed to feel connected to the protagonist/narrator of the story, we’re supposed to identify with her. But Saba’s not just some girl who starts out tough then turns to apple-butter because she had a big heart all along. Ha! No. Saba’s tough and she stays tough as jerky from beginning to end. Not the friendliest person at all, but definitely the most determined. Even though she’s cold, mean, callous, selfish, uses people, has no interest in saving the world or in justice, and pretty much only rescues her little sister out of obligation, she does occasionally try to be nice (usually when Jack yells at her for being mean and demands she apologize) and she does try to do the right thing mostly. I like her. I didn’t expect to, but I do. She’s prickly as a damn cactus but you can get a hug in if you’re clever 😉
Okay so I already mentioned Saba but seriously, she’s a hard one. The thing is, I understand why she’s angry at Emmi and I understand why she wants to leave her behind. Even if it is because she wants her out of the way it’s also true when she says that she’d be safer kept far away from the dangerous journey Saba embarks on. For example, Hopetown. Saba as a cage fighter? Oh my word it was epic. Terrible and terrifying, but epic. The Angel of Death they called her… When she gets the red hot it made me think back to when I did martial arts and how suddenly I’d be facing my opponent and everything else got blocked out, nothing but them and me and winning. I’m definitely adding Saba to my short list of characters I’d love to play in a movie.
Saba travels with Jack and the Free Hawks. Jack is a solid character and he’s perfect for keeping Saba in line as well as forcing her to open up that iron armor she hides in. Saba is a very consistent character so Jack makes her a bit more interesting by throwing curve balls into her rigid plans. I really fell in love with the idea of Saba and Jack together. Saba’s all Lugh Lugh Lugh and it might have gotten just a touch annoying except that a) it adds to her character’s persona as a whole in that she’s clearly a very focused and driven person which I appreciate and b) it annoys both Jack and Emmi enough to make me feel better because I can’t yell at Saba to shut up but they sure can.
The Free Hawks are a group of all female revolutionaries. They sound hardcore and from what we get to witness they’re tough and crafty. They mostly serve as a means to an end where Saba’s concerned so we don’t get to spend much time with them as a whole but it does introduce us to Ash and Epona who decide to aid Saba on her quest. Overall the Free Hawks are an ingenuitive concept that I really haven’t seen before in the books I’ve read.
So I’m not sure if I’m right or wrong about DeMalo, honestly I don’t quite know what to make of him, but the moment he stepped onto the page I was intrigued. I wanted to know more. I wanted to know who he was and what’s his game. There are some definite parallels to drug lords to be sure in this story with the King and chaal. This book is fiction but there are some serious undertones that link clearly to our world. Keep an eye on DeMalo. I still wanna know what his story is. Unfortunately he plays a very small role in this first book, but I hold hope for more later on. It’s pretty exciting when a character doesn’t even have to say anything or take up more than a few lines of page time to completely drag you in with intrigue.
So, this book is told in first person via Saba (you might have guessed that). We have a limited world view and limited information because we can only know what Saba knows but I like this. It gives us readers the choice to fill in the blanks how we please. Also when authors try too hard to explain everything it usually ends up ridiculous, veers the story off track, and I promptly ignore it all.
I wanna talk about the world building real quick (but probably not as quick as I intend). I’ve browsed the web and read about some fans discussing the first book and where they think it all takes place. A particular country on Earth? Another planet perhaps? This whole string of theories is interesting to me. Personally my brain assumed it took place in the future where the earth sort of dies (for whatever reason) and along rages Saba living in the now dry wasteland that’s somewhere in the U.S., maybe the West or Midwest or somewhere near the Appalachian Mountains. I live in the U.S. so it’s not really surprising that my brain would transport me there. But that being said I can totally get on board with this taking place in Europe, or the Middle East maybe, or actually yeah even a planet like Mars. It’s never specified and I like the openness of that. It gives the readers a bit to play with and also keeps the focus sharp on Saba and her story.
Adding onto this, and this will also connect to my next topic for discussion: formatting & the dialect used within this book. Most, if not all, of the characters speak with some sort of accent. My brain decided it heard a southern U.S. dialect although when I researched it online I found that it’s actually a dialect cobbled together from different sources. You can’t miss the accent, the whole text (yes the whole text because it’s narrated by Saba) is written in dialect. I bet Young’s computer wanted to catch on fire from all the intentional typos 😉
Interestingly enough this book is also written rather unconventionally in that there are no defined chapters but rather just nine sections, and also no quotation marks are used to distinguish the dialogue. It’s not too difficult to follow but it is odd and takes a moment to get used to. I think I prefer quotation marks but the way it’s written does lend itself to have a more natural cadence with Saba’s voice/POV.
The Shatter Me trilogy by Tahereh Mafi also gets creative with the text formatting but with those books it was more poetic. It gave it a touch of artistry. It illustrated Juliette’s thoughts. Then again that’s the type of person Juliette is. Not Saba. No this book suits Saba just fine. There were times when I loved the rugged but bare style of this book and there were times when I wished it was a bit more traditional so I didn’t always have to infer when someone is talking versus thinking versus observing. It made it seem…no, ya know what? I liked it. It also made me pay closer attention Lol It just took a bit of time to get used to is all.
Blood Red Road is a solid story. Will it be a hit for everyone? Nah, I doubt it, but only because the formatting is unusual or this just isn’t their genre of preference. For what it is though? It’s totally on point. I loved it.
Ya know how most books have stopping points where you can put your bookmark and take a break? Yeah well this book doesn’t have those. Or maybe it’s just because there are no chapters to give it the illusion of stopping points. Sure, maybe it’s the lack of chapters but maybe it’s because the story just goes on and on and things keep happening one after the other and it all rushes forwards with no rest in sight. Are some parts more exciting than others? Yes, but the current is never resting and it’s this that keeps pushing the pace and keeping me from shutting the book on my bookmark with easy satisfaction. Every time I put this book down it felt like I was hitting pause in the middle of a scene. So maybe the formatting is occasionally annoying…or maybe it’s subtly genius…? Not sure, either way it was a great read for me.
The ending really played with my emotions. They’re gonna die! Oh good they’re fine. No they’re all gonna die! Never mind it all worked out. Wait no! And so on and so forth… The very end though was perfect and exactly what I was looking for in a book. Everything was wrapped up. There’s the option for more but it’s not a cliffhanger ending. FINALLY. From a marketing stand-point I understand that cliffhangers are the better way to go but sometimes I just want to read a really good story and not have to read an entire series to get it. Book one began and concluded. I personally will be on the hunt for book two but at least I have the closure of book one. (I really hope DeMalo is as interesting as my imagination is making him out to be!)
Blood Red Road takes you on a wild ride filled with bloody fights, burning cities, and a twin who never rests, not until her brother is found. Enemies and the elements threaten to beat Saba down but ice cold determination fills her with the red hot that keeps her running forwards. Unusual, grim, entertaining, and unyielding, this book will take you by surprise in the best of ways.
P.S. I have a feeling that this is one of those books where the more times I read it the higher the star rating will go. In fact the more I think about it the more I want to be impulsive and just go ahead and give it 5/5 stars. If only the movie deal had gone through…
Purchase here: Blood Red Road
Similar recommended reads: The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Until the End of the World by Sarah Lyons Fleming, An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
Meet Moira Young!
Moira Young is from Vancouver, BC and now lives in the UK. A former actor and opera singer, her debut novel, Blood Red Road, first in the Dustlands trilogy, was published in 2011 to international acclaim. It won a host of prizes including the Costa Children’s Book Award, the British Columbia Book Prize for Children’s Literature and France’s Le Prix des Incorruptibles. In the USA it won a Cybils Award for Fantasy and Science Fiction and was an ALA-YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults book. It is being developed for film by Ridley Scott. The second Dustlands book, Rebel Heart, was a finalist in Canada for the Sunburst Prize, BC Stellar Award and Monica Hughes Award for Science Fiction and Fantasy. The last part of the Dustlands trilogy, Raging Star, was published in May 2014. The Dustlands books are published in 30 countries.