Let’s see… dystopian fantasy – check. An impoverished family struggling on the edges of starvation in a savage land dominated by a dictatorship – check. A really brutal incident that tears the family apart and forces the protagonist to fight in an arena to save her skin – yup, there’s that, too. Throw in the hotness quotient of the heroine and the dripping sexual tension whenever a certain disarming male is around, and… oh, wait, have we read this one before?
Yes, and no. The comparisons of Moira Young’s Blood Red Road to The Hunger Games are boldly marketed: the paperback version of the book mentions HG no less than three times on the cover alone. Even without the blurbs staring you in the face every time you set the book down, it’s difficult not to pit the two series against each other in terms of plot and characterization, although in my view Blood Red Road comes out looking more Mad Max-ish with a pinch of Cormac McCarthy thrown in for good measure.
When Saba’s beloved twin brother Lugh is kidnapped by mysterious horsemen, she sets off into the dustlands to rescue him. Countless obstacles stand in her way and Saba is forced to deal with everything from human-eating desert wurms and insane weather and geography to a pesky younger sister and a stint as a cage-fighter in a bloodthirsty, lawless town. When it becomes clear that Lugh’s abduction has far more sinister repercussions, Saba realizes she must fight for more than just the lives of her family. It’s fortunate that she has help along the way, as she’s joined by the secretive and devilish Jack and a motley crew of rebel girls called the Free Hawks.
There is plenty to like about Blood Red Road, beginning with Saba’s voice. While her dialect may be a bit tricky for some readers to digest, I actually think the way she speaks and thinks is the best part of the book. She feels real, and her development from an ornery, stubborn child looking to her twin for constant guidance to a skilled and clever (although just as ornery and stubborn) warrior is beautifully written.
Combined with a landscape that is harsh and unforgiving and photogenic as hell, as well as non-stop action sequences, Blood Red Road is going to make a rip-roaring good adventure movie. (It’s been optioned by none other than Ridley Scott himself). It should easily translate to the screen – the chronology is perfectly linear and there are no confusing plot twists to get in the way. If there’s anything to complain about in Blood Red Road, it’s that it runs to formula. That may be comforting to some readers, but it left me feeling a tad disappointed. While I’m not sure Blood Red Road – in either book or movie form – will inspire quite the same level of frenzied loyalty that Katniss and crew have garnered, Saba’s brand of kick-ass independence is refreshing and exciting.
Now, who should be cast as Saba? And, perhaps more importantly, as Jack?