Blood Red Road
McElderry Books: 459 pp., $17.99, ages 14 and up
Eighteen-year-old Saba lives in a home fashioned from salvaged tires near a lake that’s steadily evaporating, with a father who believes destiny is predetermined and two siblings who’ve “bin watchin the land die.”
It’s this difficult, isolated life that forms the beginning of “Blood Red Road,” the kickoff to a captivating trilogy for young adults from debut author Moira Young. Penned in an uneducated dialect from the perspective of a young woman sheltered from the larger world, “Blood Red Road” is an eerie and adventurous dystopian fantasy on par with Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games” and Paolo Bacigalupi’s “Ship Breaker.”
Saba is at the story’s center: She leaves the dustbowl she calls home and seeks out her twin brother, who was kidnapped by four horsemen. The symbolic portent of his disappearance plays out in an imaginatively broken-down environment similar to much young-adult fantasy these days.
The world in which the action unfolds is post-apocalyptic, but that revelation comes slowly. The details are woven in casually, almost as an afterthought, as Saba makes her way across the hardscrabble landscape, happening upon “flying machines” buried in the shifting sands of an abandoned town and the rusting remains of skyscrapers obscured by plants.
There are no cars, only horses. There aren’t any guns, just traditional weaponry such as slingshots, knives, crossbows and quivers. It goes without saying that in such a world food and water are scarce.
Still, Saba is not “afeared,” she writes in this plainspoken novel riddled with intentional misspellings and dropped Gs on its verbs. She isn’t afeared when she’s captured and forced to cage fight in front of a live audience, or when she escapes and is stranded on a dry lake bed at night battling the hellwurmes that slithered out of every crevasse.
She is, however, a bit unnerved by Jack, a petty thief with six-pack abs and silver eyes who offers to help Saba find her brother — a brother who shares with Saba the same upper-cheek facial tattoo that their father gave them at birth.
In a book set in such a stark geographic locale, the inventive character details of “Blood Red Road” really pop. Against a barren and dusty backdrop, it’s easy to conjure images of people like Miz Pinch the “rawboned giant,” with her “long head like a horse an pock-pitted skin, red an angry-lookin.” Or the king, with his “fancy shirt with frilly collar an cuffs. Short, puffy little britches that show his legs. High heeled shoes. Sword at his side. Walkin stick.”
“Blood Red Road” has a cinematic quality that makes it white-hot for film production, like so many other young adult dystopian titles now being snatched up by Hollywood. Director Ridley Scott has already optioned movie rights to this novel, which has also been picked up for publication in 14 other countries.
The fervor is more than warranted.