Author: Moira Young
Publication Date: 6/7/11
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry
Blurb (GR): 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.
Have you ever wanted to read a bleak quest novel narrated by a rough and ready Elly May Clampett from the Beverly Hillbillies? If so, this one’s for you! Just kidding. Er, sort of. The narration style of this will certainly alienate some readers but after the first 15-20 pages, I didn’t really notice it anymore. In fact, it actually felt comfortable. Saba, the protagonist in this work, lives in a barren dustland with her Pa, younger sister Emmi, and her twin, Lugh. Saba’s narration is due to the fact that she and her siblings have lived an isolated life and never learned to read or write, which seems typical of basically everyone in the story. It’s never totally clear how our world has morphed into Saba’s world or where all the “Wreckers” (presumably us) have gone, but Young’s world stands on its own. (and frankly, at the rate our disposable culture is going no one has to try very hard to convince me that our world will be shit in the not-so-distant future) The descriptions of the sandy dunes, the blowing winds, and the overall bleakness of the landscape made my lips dry and my throat raspy. It’s probably best to keep a cup of ice water nearby—you’ll want it. Trust me.
After a group of men on horseback come to their home, kill Saba’s father, and kidnap her twin brother, Saba is on a mission to rescue Lugh from the danger he is in. For me, the best part of the story is Saba’s journey from the time she leaves home until she leaves Hopetown. (this makes up roughly the first half of the book) I mean, wouldn’t every YA book be a little bit better with more cagefighting? Think on that. I absolutely don’t want to ruin any of the storyline for you. I want you to be as surprised as I was—and there were several moments when I was super excited to find out what would happen next.
This novel has a very strong set of supporting characters. Saba is supported in her mission by her sister, Emmi, whom Saba undervalues and disregards for much of the book. Emmi shows her worth several times over, and I’m hoping that she will be an even larger part of the rest of the series. I had a smile on every time Epona showed up in the story--any fellow Zelda lovers will know why. (cue me watching 20 minutes of people playing the ocarina on Youtube) Epona, Maeve, and Ash are all Free Hawks, a gung-ho group of female warriors who raid and harass authority. They show up several times in the story, and will likely be part of the series to come. In addition, Saba’s love interest, Jack, is along for most of the journey. I can see how the romantic elements of this story might annoy some people or feel unrealistic. However, I thought Saba’s naïveté in some respects balanced out with her tough exterior. She fumbled a bit, they both did, but I believed it in this world where people are lacking human connections. The love that frustrated me the most was that between the siblings. Saba is willing to risk her life more than once to save her brother, who we only get to know for the first 10 pages or so. Emmi, on the other hand, Saba is willing to just dump off several times in the story. Young does give an explanation for this but it just comes off as Saba being absolutely one-minded about saving Lugh and her self-involvement. She really does come more into herself by the end of the story—and I hope she continues to become the woman she could be in later series installments.
Zach Galifianakis does a comedy bit wherein he describes “suggested looks” for his stylist to go for including the “person who writes on alpaca message boards,” “the homeless professor,” and “the lighthouse attendant.” His beard really lends itself to all of these looks. Anyway, I was thinking about how to describe this book and here it goes…
Just give me the Wizard of Oz quest with grit and less happy fun times.
Just give me The Road with teenagers and a fantasy vibe.
Just give me a post-apoc Dune not in space and with less bizarre shit.
Just give me The Fellowship of the Ring set in Mordor without the overly burdensome description or any of the fantastical beings.
Just give me House of the Scorpion but instead of opium, it’s chaal and there isn’t any cloning.
The last one is probably the most accurate but please don’t get the idea that I think this book is overly derivative. Pretty much everything is derivative these days and that is not always a bad thing. I love all of the books I compared this one to and Moira Young did a fantastic job of telling a gripping story. I agree with other reviewers who argue that the first half of this book is much more solid than the latter half. That’s true, but I was enthralled the entire way through. My gripes with the novel were few but the most glaring was the number of coincidences. In real life, plans don't go off without a hitch and people don't show up at the exact moment you absolutely need them.
I think this book stands out in the YA dystopian scene and it is a solid 4 star read. I’m crossing my fingers here but I think the second and third books have immense potential to be 5-star reads.