Sunday, October 9, 2011

Blood Red Road Review

Blood Red Road, book 1 of Dustlands. Written by Moira Young. Published in June 2011. Young Adult, Post Apocalyptic novel.

Blood Red Road is the story of a quest undertaken by the teenage female protagonist Saba to find her kidnapped older brother Lugh. In the story's setting the United States is no more. Saba and her family live somewhere in western North America at the edge of dying dried out lake. Whether the apocalypse that has led to their hardscrabble existence was nuclear, economic, or environmental the author doesn't say. What matters is the world of Blood Red Road is without laws, rules, or any government beyond gangs and gang controlled cities.

Lugh, Saba's older brother, is kidnapped within the first few chapters of the story and Saba, in true grit style, sets out to find him. We learn she has never been more than twenty miles beyond her home her entire life. What is out there is as much a mystery to her as it is to the reader.

Saba's quest and her trials along the way seems worthy of Coen Brothers movie. But what is more compelling, and works very well for a Young Adult novel is the author's handling of themes of relations of power and affection among siblings. Though their world is far removed from ours the world of their family is recognizable. Lugh, the oldest brother (light bringer in celtic mythology) is blonde, blue eyed, and beautiful. Saba is wholly devoted to him and constantly craves his attention. So much so she is often cruel and cutting to her youngest sibling Emmi, whose birth cost their mother her life. Saba's anger at and cruetly to her younger sibling, and her fawning after her older brother make her a less than ideal protagonist but a very human one nonetheless. The story of her quest is as much a confrontation with who she is and how she relates to her family, as it is a possibly hopeless attempt to reunite such a family.

The style of the novel is engaging. A Cormac McCarthy style of minimal punctuation, and close imitation of dialect and idiom is risky, especially in a YA novel. However it does work. The story becomes that much more present to the reader and it feels less like a story in a novel than a narrated story. Which is very much appropriate for the barely literate society of the characters.

The most engaging aspect of the book for me though was the use of superstition, mythology and astrology. It is not easy for an author to tread the line between showing simple people with their folk beliefs, but also showing how said beliefs in the mouths of uneducated characters can still have weight and influnce and reveal aspects of human nature. Kudos for that accomplishment.

My only complaint about the book was the end, a huge western shootout and gunfight: which seemed too Hollywood and seemed to be screaming "Make a movie out of me."

Despite that the end left more questions than answers. What will happen to the characters? What led to this state of existence? What happened to the U.S.? Are there any larger movements to organize the world? And most pressing of all, in a world of such continual violence and war of all against all, what is the next threat to the main characters and where will it come from? What allies will they find? And what will be the cost?

I enjoyed the book and am looking forward to the next installment.