If you trust me implicitly, you need to do five things:
1. Walk away from your computer.
2. Get your wallet.
3. Pull out your card of choice, whether it be credit, debit or library.
4. Use it to procure a copy of Moira Young’s Blood Red Road.
5. Read it.
If you’d like a little more to go on than that, keep reading.
Back in August, I promised (publicly) that I’d make more of an effort to talk up fantastic books that aren’t getting the sort of attention that they deserve. So here I am, making good on that promise to myself—and to you and to the book. I wrote about Blood Red Road at Bookshelves of Doom just after finishing it, but as I was still in the Inarticulate Raptures State*, I didn’t do it justice. And I really, really, really don’t want it to get lost in the seemingly endless sea of post-apocalyptic YA novels.
Stop right there. I know what you’re saying. You want to know why the heck you should pick up yet another book that envisions a brutally harsh future set in a dusty landscape.
Well, I’ll tell you: It’s special. Not because of the premise, which is a simple one: Saba’s twin brother—the only living person she truly cares for—is kidnapped, she promises to rescue him, and she sets out to do so. Alone. Across the Sandsea and into the unknown. Without having ever left the family’s homestead at Silverlake before.
It isn’t the secondary characters who make it special, either, though you’ll both care about and root for them. It’s not because of the adventure, though it’s both thrilling and surprising. And it isn’t because of the romance or the Questions That Need Answering or the character development or even for the relationship between the sisters.
It’s special because of Saba’s voice. Blood Red Road is extremely spare, written entirely in dialect—language, after all, changes over time—and there aren’t any quotation marks. While those stylistic choices could (and, in other hands, sometimes do) come off as irritatingly pretentious, Young makes them feel natural and right. Saba’s not a talker, and she’s not a reader—she regards books and all other “Wrecker technology” with a mighty suspicious eye—and her storytelling style is a reflection of that.
It’s also special because of Saba herself. She’s record-breakingly prickly and difficult, more so than any other character than I can think of—I never stopped rooting for her, but there were certainly moments when I didn’t like her. (I always came around though.) It’s a very rare narrator who is so human that she forces me to continually revise my opinion of her.
Also, there’s cage-fighting. And giant, man-eating worms. And did I mention there’s romance?
*In my Inarticulate Rapture, I compared it to four other books, but I didn’t explain why. I’ll do that now:
Mortal Engines: Part of the joy in visiting the Mortal Engines universe was in seeing how Reeve imagined our language and technology would be used in a post-apocalyptic future. Also, do you remember how awful the pirates were? Well...
The Reapers are the Angels: Like Blood Red Road, Reapers is about a teenaged girl navigating a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and features spare prose, dialect and no quotation marks. (Reapers, though, has zombies.)
The Blue Sword: Like Harry Crewe, Saba starts out alone, but picks up a diverse band of companions along the way. And like Harry Crewe, Saba would have done it all alone if her companions hadn’t insisted on following.
Graceling: Saba and Katsa are both survivors. They’re both determined, tenacious and up against impossible odds. However: Katsa may be Graced, but Saba would wipe the floor with her. (And I say that as Katsa’s No. 1 fan.)
If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy is probably maniacally organizing all of her music into far-too-specific Spotify playlists.