Marvelous! Another post-apocalyptic desert world with a female protagonist who embarks on a quest, in the course of which she discovers hitherto unknown skill in survival and fighting. (No, really. I like stories with strong female protagonists.)
First in a trilogy, and one of the latest addition to the post-apocalyptic YA fiction sub-genre, Blood Red Road is an interesting book, though perhaps a somewhat difficult read for some readers, given Young’s use of non-standard spelling and punctuation, reflecting how spoken English sounds. Overall, I’d say it’s NOT reminiscent of Hunger Games, though they both have strong female protagonists–something of which I approve! The worlds are too different: Hunger Games has a strong centralized government, a climate similar to that of the United States today, a unified society and a fairly high level of technology while Blood Red Road has a desert climate and a splintered society. Rather the text reminds me of a combination of Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking trilogy with just a hint of Hoban’s Riddley Walker in writing style and orthography transliterated from speech. The landscape (literal and figurative) is in many ways closer to Beyond Thunderdome; the cohesive society original to the area has long fallen by the wayside, with only mysterious artifacts which are obviously remnants of that vanished society–rusted out airplanes, binoculars, metal towers in lines across the countryside. The main community is ruled by, no–not Tina Turner, alas, but rather a creepy “king” with more than a passing resemblance to Louis XIV, who has arranged gladiatorial hand to hand combats to the death.
As the book begins, we are in the single homestead of Silverlake: the family consists only of Saba, her twin brother Lugh, their younger sister Emmi and their father, who hasn’t been the same since his wife died giving birth to Emmi. A massive sandstorm brings four horsemen who abduct Lugh; Saba, unable to live without her twin, gives chase. She attempts to leave Emmi with their nearest neighbor, but Emmi steals the neighbor’s horse and follows her only remaining family member and the only thing she knows in this Wasteland. The sisters make their way across the Wasteland, passing the weather beaten fragments of the long gone Wrecker civilization, but are captured by the “Pinches” for the cage games in Hopetown. Saba hooks up with the Free Hawks, a group of female bandits–and very tough in hand to hand combat–
…and I’ll stop there. The knowledge that this is the first in the trilogy is enough of a hint about who lives and who dies. You’ll just have to read the book.
There were a few holes. Why does Saba go haring off so determinedly after her twin? and no: twin bond in an isolated environment won’t wash. I believe it exists, but Young hasn’t explained that attachment very well. As the book stands, Lugh stands almost as the story’s McGuffin; the father or sister would have stood in as well for the twin. What happened to the society? We get not a hint, though that’s not a deal breaker. Why does Saba fall for Jack so quickly? The heartstone predicts it, true, but that strikes me as the author telling us this is her heartmate rather than showing us, and there’s very little other magic in the book; it’s a pretty pragmatic trek across a wrecked desert otherwise. How did the King’s city develop? The abrupt transition from desert wasteland to corrupt city made me feel like the author had fallen asleep while watching “Beyond Thunderdome” and woken up with a brilliant idea for some girl-on-girl gladiatorial action. Why did the Free Hawks pick up Saba so readily? Recruiting a new warrior? Plausible, but I wold have liked a bit more detail on their background. The fact that Saba dissolves into a little puddle of moosh when she rescues her brother and when she, er, comes to like Jack isn’t necessarily a plot hole, though I found it a trifle anoying: maybe Saba was tough only when she had no one of the boy persuasion to help?
Hopefully, these will be addressed in the subsequent books. As the first in an as yet unwritten trilogy, and the author’s first novel, this isn’t half bad; it ends at a plausible stopping point while leaving the readers in no doubt that it IS the first in a series. And in fairness to a lot of new authors, if the readers are already familiar with the science fiction that’s come before, chances are the readers will spot similarities to these and tropes from those predecessors, no matter how scrupulous the author is in zir plotting.