Blood Red Road

Blood Red Road

Author: Moira Young

Publication: 2011, Margaret K. McElderry

Pages:  459

Overall Rating: bth_4-star-rating_zps38e772a0[1]                       

Rating for Action: bth_2-star-rating-1_zps4cdc0d23[1]

Quantity of Action: bth_3-star-rating_zps73bdba73[1]

Age Category: 13+

Brief Summary:  Saba lives with her twin brother, Lugh, her father, and her younger sister, Emmi in a threadbare shack on the edge of a dying lake.  Lugh is Saba’s entire world, the only person she cares about or needs.  So when a group of black clad horsemen kill her father and kidnap Lugh, Saba and Emmi set out to find him.  Together they travel through the dry wastelands, all that remains after the collapse of the Wrecker civilization.  Their world is a dangerous place, as Saba discovers when she’s kidnapped and forced to become a cage fighter.  But it can also be full of friends, and Saba eventually comes together with a handsome daredevil named Jack and a girl gang called the Free Hawks.  Together, they’ll take on the King to rescue Lugh and save Saba’s world.

Age of Main Character: 17

What I Liked the Most: Young has created a book that’s chock full of rich scenery.  She makes the wasteland pop with life, whether it’s the hellhole called Hopetown where Saba gets thrown into a cage match, or the endless dunes of the Sandsea, Young’s world is incredibly full and real.

Beyond her amazing touch when it comes to scenery, Young also seems to have a genuine gift for language that really helped propel me into Saba’s world.  Here’s a random example of what I’m talking about:

I knew it! I says.  I knew you knew more’n you was lettin on. Gawdammit Jack, why didn’t you tell me before.  Why didn’t you tell me right away, when you found out where I was headed?

I know I should of, he says.  But I didn’t want you to know till you had to.

I ain’t a child, I says.  I don’t need you to pertect me.

The writing’s unconventional, and it takes some getting used to, but Young’s sense for language and dialogue is spot on and it shows through in every line.

What I Liked the Least: Some of the things that happened in this book didn’t feel particularly credible.  Normally, I’m able to set aside my sense of disbelief when I’m reading a good story, but there were times here when I found myself saying, “No way.”  I don’t want to give away too much, but I think an example is in order.  Early on in the story, Saba is kidnapped and sold to a cage fighting ring.  Prior to this, I never got the sense that she was a tough fighter.  In fact, she always saw herself as weaker than Lugh.  But when she’s thrown into the cage she somehow becomes a superhuman fighting machine.  Young puts this all down to “the red hot”.  Basically, when Saba gets into the cage she lets her anger and adrenaline take over.  The only problem is, 50% of the people going into a cage match probably do the same thing – the others piss their pants like any normal person and get their asses kicked.  So what makes Saba’sr red hot more special than anyone else’s?  There’s no explanation for that.  And the fight scenes are too vague to help clear things up.

The other real problem was that the villain, a man known as The King, struck me as a bit cartoonish.  There was nothing particularly threatening about him.  Even his Tonton bodyguards are only seen in action once or twice, without enough detail to make them particularly fearsome.  All-in-all, Young never did enough to build up the King and his private army as a dangerous enemy, and that really reduced the tension I felt during the climax.

How Good was the Action?  It kind of sucks.  Most of the action scenes lack any real blow-by-blow detail and are too brief to build up tension.  Take the example of the cage fights.   Saba gets tossed into a cage in front of hundreds of screaming people who’ve just torn a man to shreds for losing his match.  I’d expect a scene dripping with tension and fear, a nasty fight in which she almost loses but somehow finds the strength and power to prevail.  Instead, I got one page in which she more or less says that the other’s girl’s tough, but she learns how to be tougher.  It could have worked, but with so much set up for a nothing action scene, it ended up being a major let down.  And that seems to be the way of it for most of the action scenes in this book – a lot of great set-up, leading us to expect a knock down-drag out fight that never materializes.

How Engaging was the Story? The lack of tension at the end of the book was a letdown, but overall the story remained quite engaging.  I got completely absorbed by the characters and the language, and drawn into Saba’s rough and wild world.  And while we learn very little about the Wreckers, it was clear that the people who destroyed the planet were – in fact – us.  That made the dry wastelands and violent towns all the more real – knowing that Saba had to live in this dark world because of what the people of our time had done.  This may be science fiction, but it still makes you think – perhaps even more than if Young had gone into some long explanation of how the world collapsed.  As it is, we’re left to imagine what went wrong.  

Overall Assessment: Blood Red Road is a vividly imagined world, filled with colorful characters, intense scenery and incredible dialogue.  That makes it a fun and engaging read.  Unfortunately, the action was a major letdown.  Young goes to great lengths to build up action scenes that fizzle and die, and the climax left me feeling disappointed, as the final battle was far too easy.  What it comes down to is this – if you’re looking for a well told story with great characters, fantastic dialogue, and healthy dose of romance, you’re going to enjoy yourself.  But if you’re a stickler for good action and climactic endings, you’ll probably wind up disappointed.

Profanity: Yes

Sex: Some, but basically just kissing.

Violence: Yes.  There’s definitely some blood and people die.  In a few cases it’s moderately graphic.

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