Friday, February 28, 2014

Everywhere You Look, Red

Blood Red Road
~Blood Red Road~
Dust Lands Trilogy
Book 1

By Moira Young
Amazon ~ Powell's ~ Jan's Paperbacks

Saba has spent her whole life in Silverlake, a dried-up wasteland ravaged by constant sandstorms. The Wrecker civilization has long been destroyed, leaving only landfills for Saba and her family to scavenge from. That's fine by her, as long as her beloved twin brother Lugh is around. But when a monster sandstorm arrives, along with four cloaked horsemen, Saba's world is shattered. Lugh is captured, and Saba embarks on a quest to get him back.

Suddenly thrown into the lawless, ugly reality of the world outside of desolate Silverlake, Saba is lost without Lugh to guide her. So perhaps the most surprising thing of all is what Saba learns about herself: she is a fierce fighter, an unbeatable survivor, and a cunning opponent. She has the power to take down a corrupt society from the inside. Teamed up with a handsome daredevil named Jack and a gang of girl revolutionaries called the Free Hawks, Saba stages a showdown that will change the course of her own civilization.

This book must have been a nightmare to edit. The cover copy says it has "a poetically minimal writing style". Put in layman's terms, it has a simple vocabulary, absolutely no quotation marks, no traditional chapters, and a ton of phonetically-spelled words. For example, "I figger if only we could unnerstand crow talk..." It's almost dialectical, except its throughout the narration and dialog, which I'm sure will put some readers off immediately. I admit it took some getting used to, training my mind to be lazier and not wince with each misspelling, but after a few pages (and with the audiobook's help) I managed to wade through and get to the heart of the story.

Saba is our narrator and heroine of this story. Brought up simply and fairly isolated in the post-apocalyptic wasteland, I have to admit, the writing style is fitting. Saba is your typical tough heroine. Thrown into a tough situation, she turns tough to deal with it. There are times she borders on cold and unlikeable, especially when it comes to her little sister who she can't help but blame for their mother's death. Maybe it's the fact that I'm an older sibling too, but I didn't hold her initial coldness towards her sister against her too much. Plus she's on a quest to get her brother back, so she's obviously got family values in the right place. And it's not like she goes out of her way to hurt her sister or anything...

Unfortunately, that's mostly all we get from Saba. She's tough, determined, loyal, and a great fighter. She's got some major flaws to work through, too, but really that's the summation of her character. And she's the most well-defined character of the bunch.

That, I feel, is the fault of the pacing. The story starts slowly enough. Saba and her sister begin their quest slogging through the desert after their brother. Then they're captured. Then a month flashes by off-screen. Then we return to a timer of four-or-so weeks getting set on the rest of the book. I was happy for the faster pace, and it really does pick up in a good way after that, but there's so much to do. In that time they've got a huge chunk of traveling do to, obstacles to overcome, battles to wage, and a villain to fight, leaving little time left to introduce and establish the other five (six if you count sis) main characters.

Much of that time was spent on Saba's love interest, Jack. Jack was easy enough for me to like: he's your typical man of mystery with a sense of humor, a rogue of sorts. And I do like me some rogues. But nothing was ever really done with him. He kept these secrets, but when Saba finally pried the information out of him, I never saw any reason he'd be keeping the information from her in the first place. The reveals never felt all that deserving of the intrigue surrounding them. So, I guess I approve of Jack in the sense that he had a sense of humor and wasn't a bad guy, but even he wasn't as fleshed-out as I would have liked.

The romance between the two is pretty standard fair, apart from it's strange formation. It's a bit of love at first sight, but what really gets things rolling is this heartstone Saba inherited from her mother. Story goes that the heartstone stays cold until the owner approaches their heart's desire, then it warms to hot until they touch. So whenever Saba gets closer to Jack this stone starts heating up. I guess instead of having a pushy, matchmaking best friend, this stone works instead.

Which begs the question, is this story a Fantasy? Or at least Paranormal? At the beginning of the book, the issue of star reading, and having fate written in the stars is discussed. It's believed that their father learned how to read the future from the stars and perform magic rituals, but his latest efforts have been failures causing the siblings to doubt. Saba also has a couple of prophetic dreams, one of which pertains to Jack. So with the heartstone and the star reading and the dreams, is that enough to call it outright Fantasy, or just a post-apocalyptic novel with paranormal elements?

And speaking of the post-apocalypse, I loved the setting. Some time after our modern society (known as the Wreckers) has somehow wiped itself out, all that remains is our landfills and a few hollowed husks of our cities. But unlike other books I've come across with this setting, there aren't hoards of zombies ravaging the wastes, nor vampires ruling the few hubs of cities. No, it's just humans left, and they can either help you or hurt you.

I wouldn't go so far as to call it a dystopian, seeing as there's not much of a government running things. We eventually come to find that there's a "King" running things in this area, but his "rule" never felt as absolute as in typical dystopians. Plus there are the Free Hawks and other factions fighting for territory rights, so it has more of a lawless feel than a faux-Utopia. (The Free Hawks - now there's another thing I would have loved to have known more about!)

Unbeknownst to me when starting, Blood Red Road is the beginning to a trilogy. I suppose I should have guessed it based on the YA trend of trilogies lately (not to mention the title page). But really, the ending feels very complete. There's still some loose ends to tie up, but in terms of the narrative, it's a clear stopping point. I guess on the bright side, if you didn't love it there's no cliffhangers propelling you forward. But I don't honestly know what else there is to do. I guess I'll have to find out when I pick up the sequel.

Overall, Blood Red Road was an intriguing story with some unfortunate pacing and character development issues. I'd recommend it to those who enjoy tough YA heroines or post-apocalyptic questing novels, and don't mind some romance on the side. No language or sex to speak of, but there is cage-fighting and some battles waged, plus the writing style to contend with so I'd put this in the high school and up range. If you're in the mood for an unorthodox writing style but still want a story with some grit to it, then you might want to check out Blood Red Road.

Approximate Reading Time: 5 hours

Audiobook Review
Read by Heather Lind
Length: 11.3 Hours
Listened at 2.3x Speed

I would highly recommend snagging this audio if you've got plans to read this book. Not because it's the greatest recording, or because there's a lot of foreign words to trip over, but because it really helps get you through the "poetically minimal writing style". The writing already leans so far toward oral pronunciations, it's just easier to have someone else tell it to you. Why strain your brain to forget all the rules its breaking, or not to wince at misspellings when you can just have Ms. Lind taking care of all of that for you?

The audio also proved extremely helpful in dealing with the pacing of the story. I don't know what it was exactly, whether it was the desert wasteland setting, or the sparsely punctuated pages, but this book seemed much more daunting to read than it should have been. In that sense, the recording was essential in getting me past the numerous slow sections, especially at the beginning.

All that aside, it wasn't the worst audio to listen to. Ms. Lind provided ample variety in her voices and brought a great amount of emotion to her performance. I did notice a breathy/whisper quality to it, which was especially noticeable during the yelling/shouting sections, but I'm not fully sure if this was the recording or the reader herself.

On the whole, I was very appreciative to have this recording on hand for tackling this book. With a fine narrator and a seamless audio that hardly alerted me to track changes, I'd happily recommend this to audiophiles and casual listeners alike. But like I said, I think anyone who's interested in the story might like having the audio guide them rather than tackling a strange dialectical writing style on their own. Then again, maybe that's just me.