After reading an excerpt of Moira Young’s debut novel a few months ago, I was dying to read the rest of Blood Red Road. The first chapter introduces us to this stark epic landscape that exists sometime in the future, when our civilization is long gone, and yet some people manage to soldier on in the desert wastelands that remain. Among these people is Saba, who lives with her twin brother Lugh, their pa and their little sister Emmi. The family lives in isolation in the middle of the red dustlands, until the day when everything changes. Some mysterious men show up and kidnap Lugh, kill Pa, and leave Saba alone and in charge of Emmi.
Before you start this book, you should probably know that the whole thing is written in dialect. I loved it, because I felt like it helped me get to know Saba very quickly and connect to her on an emotional level. I felt like I could already hear her voice, and it made the story her own. Everything is written in a stream-of-consciousness style, in Saba’s dialect, and without any quotations to indicate someone else speaking. It really worked for me, but I know it drives some people crazy, so consider this your heads up.
Read more about how incredibly awesome Saba is, with minor spoilers, after the jump.
So after giving her Pa a funeral pyre, Saba sets off to rescue Lugh. The only problem is that she’s still got her little sister Emmi to worry about. Saba decides to drop her off with Mercy, a friend of her father’s who lives in a secluded glen a few days’ walk from their home. Saba and Emmi have a really interesting relationship, namely because they hate each other. They were both always closer to Lugh than they were to each other, so they’re not pleased to be stuck together. But Emmi is also not thrilled at the idea of being left behind by Saba – she wants to go help rescue Lugh. So little Emmi sneaks away from Mercy’s and follows Saba. They’re still not happy about spending time together and snipe at each other a lot, but they slowly learn that each is tougher and kinder than they gave each other credit for.
Not long after, though, Saba and Emmi get kidnapped by a pair of grifters who keep Emmi as a servant for themselves and sell Saba to a cagefighting ring. This is where things get really awesome. They sold Saba because they could tell she was a fighter, someone who never gives up (because she promised Lugh she never would). So Saba gets her head shaved, starts kicking ass, never loses a match, and tries to formulate a plan to escape.
They call me the Angel of Death.
That’s because I ain’t never lost a fight. Every time they take me to the Cage, I let the red hot take me over an it fights till it wins.
I close my mind off. Don’t let myself think about it. I gotta stay alive. Gotta git outta here an find Lugh. He’s still out there somewhere, waitin for me to come. I know it. They could be keepin him right here in Hopetown.
SO BADASS, RIGHT? Especially for a girl who always lived in the shadow of her brother and always thought she was weak and second-best. But she’s found her inner strength here, and the lead-up to her escape from the Cage feels like it should be the climax of the book.
The problem is, it’s not.
Instead, Saba meets a guy named Jack when she’s out in the prison yard one day and falls in love with him for no reason at all. He’s smarmy and cocky, and because Saba has this stone on a necklace called a heartstone, she falls for him. She wears it because it’s the only thing she has from her mom, but there’s a legend that a heartstone will heat up when you’re near your heart’s desire. When Saba gets it she’s all, “whatevs, I don’t believe it, and anyway all my heart wants is to find my brother.” But then she gets near this Jack character and he’s all, “How you doin?” and she’s all “WTF THE HEARTSTONE IS HOT, SWOON”. I felt like she was only trusting him because of the stupid magic stone and he’s done nothing to deserve her trust. It felt totally opposite to Saba’s character as established thus far.
So when Saba finally makes her escape, it feels like this huge climax, but there’s actually half the book left, and unfortunately I just wasn’t as intrigued by anything in the second half of the book because it becomes The Jack Show. And I’m sorry, but I hated Jack. He kept hinting that he had this dark past and that he was a thief or a con man, so I never trusted him. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop and for him to betray Saba. He never did, but he undermined her at every opportunity.
Oh no, I says. You ain’t gonna aks him to come with us, too?
Ask, says Jack, the word’s ask, Saba, not aks.
Don’t tell me how to talk, I says. I said, are you gonna aks him to come with us too?
Seriously? I like Saba’s accent/dialect, and Jack putting her down because it’s not proper grammatically does not endear him to me. I think he’s supposed to be a lovable rogue, where he’s so charming that you like him even though he’s kind of an ass, but it just didn’t work for me. I was already very invested in Saba’s development at this point, so having Jack spend half the book tearing her down and making her less sure of herself didn’t make sense to me. He also does things like hiding her clothes when she’s bathing so she has to get out naked in front of him, which is emphatically not okay. This just not indicate a healthy relationship.
Jack is allegedly necessary because he knows how to get to the place where Lugh is being held and is going to be sacrificed. I just feel like Saba could have gotten that information from the Free Hawks, the group of warrior girls who helped Saba escape from the Cage. Some of them came along with her after the escape, so why couldn’t they have had that knowledge? I’m just sick of perfectly good stories about girls being taken over by a romance that gets shoehorned in and adds nothing to the story. Is the story of a girl going on a journey to rescue her brother not enough? Why does there always have to be a romance? Furthermore, why does there have to be a romance with an abusive jerk?
Romance aside, they eventually get to save Lugh, and there’s a big battle with the king who kidnapped him in the first place, and it is pretty badass. Overall, I liked the book but I could have done without much of the second half of the book, and obviously without Jack. I’m not sure where the series will go from here – Saba, Lugh, and Emmi say they’re going to head west towards the Big Water, so I guess they’re going to explore more of this strange world that we only got a peek at. Jack actually goes off to take care of some mysterious thing and says he’ll catch up to them, so maybe he won’t be in the next book much. A girl can hope.
Blood Red Road comes out June 6th. If you’re a fan of The Hunger Games or other dystopian action books, you’ll probably be into this book as well, but beware the romantic subplot.