The Daily Monocle

Critical book reviews from a literary skeptic.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Blood Red Road by Moira Young

Posted by J. P. Wickwire

Books--especially YA coming-of-age tales--are often touted as literary journeys. And some, in the most cliched ways, are actual journeys or quests. But rarely does one come across a book like Blood Red Road, which is, in fact, a YA journey novel that avoids the cliche trap.

Brought up in the post-apocalyptic settlement of Silverlake, Saba has lived the whole of her eighteen years in the shadow of her twin brother, Lugh. All of that changes when Lugh is kidnapped by four horsemen arriving in a cloud of dust. Suddenly Saba finds herself on a mad quest to rescue her brother, but she’ll have to brave enslavement, combat, and a host of other obstacles first.

Blood Red Road by debut author Moira Young is visceral, harrowing, and helps fill the battle-shaped gap left by a market saturated with glossy dystopians.

The story itself is in quest-format, but the plot is fresh. How? Young has landed her protagonist in a dusty, ugly post-apocalyptic world that’s part future-esque, and part old west. It isn’t glossy--it isn’t glamorous--and because it is admittedly dark, sets itself apart from other novels on the same shelf.

Young also chooses to take the literary high road, so to speak, and allows her story to operate on two different planes. Rather than falling for the YA device of dumbing her story down, or over explaining, Young respects her readers enough to allow Blood Red Road’s quest factor to operate on both a psychological and physical plane.

Young’s characterization skills are powerful, exhibited in polar personalities as the elusive Lugh, and the rogue, pirate-like Jack. Even Saba herself begins Blood Red Road unlikeable, ungainly and insecure. But by the end of the book, Saba’s strength rivals that of every YA heroine on the shelves.

The only downfall here is the dialect in which Young chooses to write. This self-imposed “limit” doesn’t cripple the story by any means, but the book could’ve been even better had the author allowed herself a more extensive vocabulary and educated manner of speaking. The strange, often intentionally misspelled slang will snag readers who are used to the way words look and feel, and comes across gimmicky, rather than as a point of strength.

They say that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but Moira Young takes that saying to a new level with Saba and her story. Blood Red Road is daring, different, and challenges its YA contemporaries to raise the bar.


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