Blood Red Road is the debut novel by Moira Young. It is one of the novels listed on my Blood Magic challenge reads for this year. I wanted to wait to read it until I had the sequel, Rebel Heart, so I could burn through both of them. I’m finding series and trilogies much easier to catch up on once I have acquired the first two.
Saba has grown up at Silverlake, an arid part of land around a dying lake. It has not rained in six months. Life has become a struggle for her, her twin brother, Lugh, her 9 year old sister, Emmie, and her father. One day a group of men show up, kill her father, and kidnap Lugh. Saba’s goal is to get him back, no matter what the cost. She sets off to a friend of her father’s with her sister in tow. Emmie and Saba do not have the best relationship. Saba blames her for the death of their mother, who died in childbirth with Emmie. She finds Emmie to be a nuisance and debates leaving her in the desert to fend for herself, particularly when an injury slows the two of them down. Eventually she begins the next round of her journey to Hopeland, a major city where she hopes to find Lugh. Through a series of circumstances Saba ends up fighting in a betting ring for cage fighting to save her sister.
And this is where my attention began to waver. But I know why it happened.
For the first half of the book Saba was incredible to read. She was edgy, bitter, and single minded. I liked that about her. I found it refreshing that a Young Adult character would have such an profound anger to her. The fact that she works best alone was a compelling dynamic as well – Saba doesn’t have the patience to allow anyone else in, even her sister. She has the best flaws that make her captivating. However, around the cage fighting bits in Hopeland a new element is introduced into this story dynamic – a love interest.
The love interest in this is someone who I never fell for. It felt forced. I felt like I was being pandered to. I can just see the thought process that underscored this twist – “We have this strong, independent woman capable of getting things done, now let’s throw a man at her to completely unhinge her, because that’s what every YA reader wants.” I found adding this element to be unbelievable and I never understood the chemistry between the two characters. The fact that this element takes up a good deal of the story annoyed me as well. Saba still had her focus to save her brother, but it wasn’t the only thing on her mind now. Suddenly there’s a lot of “He loves me/he loves me not” moments and that killed the tension for me. I found my ardour for this book begin to wilt.
Maybe it’s me. Maybe I am over this dynamic in Young Adult. I do not mind a romantic element in a book when I want it and I think it’s appropriately placed. That said, in this book it was badly timed. It took too long to show up and then it became the dominating, driving force. And I waned.
I haven’t even spoken of the writing style of this book yet. Allow me to address it now, as this is a big conflict with many of the readers. This book is written entirely in dialect. Young drops gs at the end of her verbs. She misspells words intentionally like “cain’t” and “skellentons” and “git” and “bin”. She uses words like “afeared” and “offa” and many colloquialisms found in less educated regions (there is a point made of this).The language is very simple and direct. Many people have found problems with this but not me. Dialect always immediately sets the tone for me, though I usually have to read aloud for a few minutes to get it right. Where I had a problem was the fact that Young never used quotation marks in this book. She would often write an exchange like this:
Promise me you won’t, I says.
Everybody’s gotta die one day, he says.
I found this to be more disturbing than the dialect (none of which is actually present in the passage I chose). I’m an incredibly visual person and seeing a paragraph like this that wasn’t description just drove me nuts. The fact that it didn’t “look” like a normal bit of text just did a number on me. My editor brain wanted to pull out a red pen and fix everything. Clearly, I struggled the most with this. A person who is less visually inclined may not.
At this point I am unsure if I will even read the sequel just now. I might reread this in a few years to see if I had the same problems with it later. I enjoyed to first bit of it soooooo much that the latter part feels like a massive letdown. I wonder if I went back to it with a better idea of what I am getting into if I would enjoy it any more. We’ll see. Mood alters EVERYTHING. Mood changes books I loathe into books I love. So, we’ll just have to see.
3.5 out of 5 stars. For now.