Title: Dustlands #1: Blood Red Road
Author: Moira Young
Synopsis (Courtesy of Powell’s Books):
“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.”
Thoughts: There are two types of dystopian fiction stories – those that take place in a world very similar to our own, in which remnants of our current culture are still recognizable and common and those that take place in a world that is completely foreign to our own, where familiar features or elements of our current culture are only hints and not common. After reading Blood Red Road, I have decided I like the former types of dystopian fiction much more than the latter. Unfortunately, Blood Red Road falls into the latter category.
It is not that Blood Red Road is a horrible novel; in fact, it is quite intriguing. Saba is a strong central character, albeit slightly one-dimensional. The story itself is interesting, and the pacing is quick and intense. The grimness of the scenery is well-portrayed in a minimalistic style that is quite appropriate to the overall tone. Ms. Young presents the horrors of the Dustland civilization with a starkness and sense of clarity that does much to enhance the danger.
In spite of all that, I still was not enthralled with Saba and her journey to find her twin brother. All of the characters were relatively flat and rather boring when viewed separately. No one character acted in a surprising manner or in a way that furthered my interest in them or in the story. For being a first-person narration, Saba’s motivation and feelings are remarkably robotic and fixed. Given all she goes through on her journey, a bit more emotion would go a long way to make her a more sympathetic character. Also, the fact that the entire novel is written in dialect is a double-edged sword. While it does lend a more legitimate voice to Saba and the narration and is a brilliant plot device, it quickly becomes overwhelming and then annoying as the reader is left having to decipher every single phrase rather than dialogue only.
Similarly, the setting of the novel is too foreign and unfamiliar. Blood Red Road feels more like a science fiction novel than a dystopian fiction novel because there is very little that connects present-day readers with this completely unknown world in some unknown future. If it weren’t for the occasional reference to an everyday object from today, a reader would be hard-pressed to know that the story takes place on Earth. Worse, the more fantastical elements were a lot more difficult to reconcile given the pragmatism portrayed in the rest of the story. A setting this bleak and hopeless does not balance the mysticism well, especially as they seem more like they were added on at the last minute rather than blended seamlessly into the plot. In fact, much of the story seems ad hoc and jagged. While the story itself is very intense at times, the unevenness of the story does not lend itself to a desire to continuously read it.
I know others are quite excited about this latest entry to the world of Young Adult dystopian fiction, even if I remain unimpressed. Ms. Young does show promise in the clarity of her writing and her novel plot devices. Unfortunately, the depth of character that is necessary to counterbalance such a strong setting is missing, as is a clear connection to the past, or the reader’s present, and smooth storyline. While I enjoyed reading the story, it is not one about which I can gush for hours or unequivocally recommend. Given the excited chatter in the blogging world, I know Blood Red Road will do well this summer; it just wasn’t for me.
Thanks to Simon & Schuster‘s Galley Grab for my e-galley.