Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Blood Red Road

Children's Review: Blood Red Road
Blood Red Road: Dustlands, Book One by Moira Young (Margaret K. McElderry/S&S, $17.99 hardcover, 464p., ages 14-up, 9781442429987, June 7, 2011)

Moira Young's debut novel, the first of the Dustlands series, unfolds in prose as spare as the wind- and sand-dominated landscape. Saba and Lugh, 18, are twins, born on the dried-up remains of Silverlake on Midwinter Day, "when the sun hangs low in the sky." Their mother died giving birth to their now nine-year-old sister, Emmi. Their father reads their fates in the stars, but he has no connection to the earth since the death of his wife. It seems to Lugh that there's nothing written in the stars, and Pa might do better to notice that there's too little to eat and no water supply except for the dew they collect. Only when four men in long black robes and leather vests show up on horseback (calling to mind the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse) does Pa seem to come alive. He tells Saba, "They're gonna need you, Saba. Lugh an Emmi. An there'll be others too. Many others. Don't give in to fear. Be strong, like I know you are. An never give up."
The four horsemen kidnap Lugh and kill Pa--less than 30 pages into the book, and Saba is left alone to protect Emmi and rescue her twin brother. Pa once told them how to find Mercy, their mother's friend whom she'd known in Hopetown, the main city. Saba plans to leave Emmi with Mercy in Crosscreek while she searches for Lugh. They find Mercy in a dell with trees and two streams that meet up in a creek. Saba has never seen a place like this, with plenty of water and plants that grow, and begins to resent her father for keeping them in a dry desert land. Mercy explains to Saba that she parted ways with their father: " 'He looked to the sky for answers, I looked here.' She tap[ped] her hand over her heart." Before Saba goes on her way, Mercy gives her a heartstone, which Saba's mother had given her: "It lets you know when you've found your heart's desire." The stars versus the heart. The heroine must figure out for herself what she believes rules her path.
Saba starts out as an unsympathetic narrator. But as her world becomes wider, so does her perspective. Her ferocious will to survive serves her, and the information she gathers from those she meets along the way helps her see herself differently. The world Moira Young builds is breathtaking, with expanses of beauty, like Crosscreek, and a mountain pass draped in fog. But Saba also discovers shifting sands and winds so powerful that they can cover an entire "flyer" (airplane) fleet and make skeletons of skyscrapers. Giant carnivorous worms dwell deep beneath a dry riverbed. Few people know how to read. An addictive drug called chaal grown high in the mountains rules everything, and the Tonton--men in black robes, like those who stole Lugh--gather slaves to tend the chaal and serve a "king" who dresses like "Lewis Ex Eye Vee, the Sun King of France." For entertainment, the King holds gladiator-style fights in a "colosseum." After three defeats, the loser "runs the gauntlet," and the waiting crowd kills him or her in an end worthy of Tennessee Williams's Suddenly, Last Summer. There's an overriding sense of terror, akin to the world of Mad Max, ruled by tyranny rather than anarchy. But Saba also discovers romance, friendship and trust. Young uses coincidence to perfection, augmenting the importance of the question raised by Saba's father: Does fate truly rule our paths? This first book in the Dustlands series does not answer that question in full, but it does bring this first adventure to satisfying completion, and the cinematic images will linger in readers' minds until Saba's next adventure.--Jennifer M. Brown

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