I picked up Blood Red Road by Moira Young after seeing it on a few lists of nominations for YA fantasy, as well as just on some random blogs. I knew almost nothing going into it, which I’m always happy about. I love the surprise of a new book, with no expectations. I really enjoyed it. In fact, I could hardly put it down, and I found every excuse to keep going with it. It’s a really brilliant piece of post-apocalyptic fiction, done in a very different way than the usual dystopic novels that we’re being inundated with these days—not that I dislike those novels, but it’s nice to see something different coming along.
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.
There will be a few, minimal spoilers ahead:
This is an exciting, thrilling adventure novel set in the distant, post-apocalyptic future. It’s similar to the subject of The Road meets the narrative style of No Country for Old Men with some of the crazy action of the Mad Max films. I love the narration. This is the prime example of why post-apocalyptic is the new western. The diction is flawless and always surprisingly well chosen. Saba’s voice is clearly defined, the inflections of her dialect are spelled out beautifully, even lyrically, which plays well with the haunting subject matter. Words like “afeared” and “naught” fit snugly within the sentences, oddly idiosyncratic, yet pitch perfect. Audio is the perfect medium for this book. I read the first chapter in print, but then the audio came in for me at my library and I knew I had to make the switch. It’s absolutely flawless in the way; it is meant to be read aloud.
The characterization is exceptional, down to Saba’s mulish stubbornness-to-a-fault and Jack’s persistent wiliness. I loved it. Saba’s character arc is excellently drawn. Her relationship with her sister Emmi expands and changes throughout, our perception of the young girl becomes clearer as Saba gets to know her. Jack is a stellar character, as slippery as an eel, as wily as a polecat, and utterly charming to boot. He’s perfect for Saba, particularly in that he distracts her from her oddly absorbing relationship with her brother.
Young brings us an excellent sense of place throughout the novel. The scenery is painted with broad, bleak brushstrokes. The land is a character just as much as Saba, and just as stubborn. The harsh, shifting sands of the desert, the treacherous roads of the Black Mountains, and the wretched hive of scum and villainy that is Hopetown. I was so impressed by it.
I have to deduct some points, though, because of the love triangle. It’s a love triangle between Saba, Jack, and Lugh. The plot is solid: her brother is taken by hooded men and she must save him. Excellent. I’ll buy that any day. That’s brilliant, compelling fodder for an epic tale. However, the way that Saba thinks about Lugh is the way that most other books would treat a girl dreaming about her lover. It would be completely understandable for her to go after her brother and save him from death. I love it. However, she consistently describes him as “her light” and waxing poetic over his beauty and how he’s her everything. There’s a point to which this is understandable: they’ve grown up isolated from the world with no one but their crazy father and their younger sister who Saba blames for their mother’s death. For example: during the reunion at the end, I was nearly waiting for them to start kissing passionately. I think that Jack sees that inappropriate relationship, and I wish it had been addressed further. In the end, Saba seems to have moved past this adoration of her brother, moving her attentions to Jack, but I’d like to have seen it go a bit further. I don’t know if it was intentional by the author for that sense to be conveyed, but it was off-putting.
However, that’s honestly the single flaw in a nearly flawless novel. I really loved it, and much of that stems from the narrative style and the diction, as well as the incredible sense of place. It reminds me of The Passage, and is a great book to read while waiting for the sequel. Though this is no filler novel, it’s the first in a series of its own, and I eagerly await the next one.