Saba and her twin brother Lugh have never been separated -- and since their mother died in childbirth and their father began to slip away, they've become even more dependent on each other for survival. So when four cloaked horsemen appear in the midst of a bloodred sandstorm and take Lugh away, Saba's choice is clear: she must face the unknown and unforgiving desert, and save her twin from a grisly end. But Saba's journey is farther and more dangerous than she could possibly imagine, and only with the help of a barkeep, an infuriating thief, a deaf little boy and a band of girl revolutionaries does she have any hope of bringing her brother home.
In Blood Red Road, Moira Young crafts a gritty post-apocalyptic adventure, and once the action starts it never pauses for breath. However, it is difficult to get a handle on the heroine, Saba. In her single-minded quest to save her brother, her own identity and desires seem to get lost. I often found myself frustrated with her thoughtless mistakes and would have liked to see her grow into some kind of self-awareness over the course of the novel, rather than remaining so co-dependent on her brother. That's not to say, though, that she wasn't strong or driven. Saba had an unwavering determination to save the person she loves most in the world, no matter the cost, and was a fierce fighter and talented archer.
Part of the distance between reader and heroine comes from the dialect in which the entire novel is written. There are no quotation marks, and words like "an" for and, "jest" for just, "ezzackly" for exactly, and a general lack of grammar pervade the text. This is obviously an intentional choice by the author to set the tone for the novel, but it was frustrating to wade through as a reader. It took me half of the 500 page tome to look past the twang and appreciate the narrative.
Once accustomed to the dialect, though, Young's epic adventure became engrossing. The world-building is fantastic, putting the reader directly into the dry, deserted landscapes and ramshackle villages of Saba's story. This future world is as degenerate as they come, with a mad king and his sadistic Tonton, drugging the citizens with chaal until they're irrational, bloodthirsty animals. The eclectic cast of secondary characters makes the novel shine, including Nero, Saba's bizarrely intelligent pet crow. My favorites, though, are the "girl revolutionaries" mentioned in the synopsis: the Free Hawks, a motley crew of fiercely loyal and seriously lethal warriors that are somehow reminiscent of Peter Pan's Lost Boys.
Ultimately, though the dialect is distracting, Young's debut novel is a captivating blend of magic and monsters, betrayal and vengeance, rebellion and desert pirates that will reward tenacious readers who see it through to the ragtag rebels' final stand.
Disclosure: I received an advance galley from the publisher. This did not affect my review in any way.