Oct 25, 2011

Blood Red Road by Moira Young

Blood Red Road by Moira Young

Eighteen-year-old Saba has never been separated from her twin brother Lugh. Growing up in remote Silverlake, she’s never had much contact with anyone besides her family. But one day, a group of riders dressed in black come to Silverlake, take Lugh away, and change Saba’s life forever. She knows it’s up to her to get her brother back, as well as to make sure that their younger sister Emmi remains safe. And so her journey begins.

It’s been a little while since I finished Blood Red Road, so I asked my friend Kelly if she would help jolt my memory with a few questions about the novel. She was kind enough to agree, so here are her questions and my answers:

1. What lead you to pick up this book? Did it meet your expectations?
First of all, the premise really appealed to me, as did the setting. Blood Red Road sounded like it would have the kind of post-apocalyptic western feel that I have enjoyed in other books, and it didn’t disappoint in that regard. Secondly, I was seeing Moira Young at the Edinburgh Book Festival, so it seemed only right to read her book beforehand.

As for whether or not it met my expectations, yes and no. Blood Red Roads is a good book, but unfortunately I felt like I’d seen much of it before. The voice in particular strongly reminded me of Todd from Chaos Walking, which put me off quite a bit. Part of me feels terrible saying this, as it’s not entirely fair criticism. When I saw Moira Young doing a joint session with Patrick Ness in Edinburgh, she said she heard this comparison all the time, but she had yet to read Chaos Walking exactly because she was working on her series when it came out. So it’s not a matter of Moira Young’s work not being original – it’s just that readers can’t help the fact that the first of these series they come across will feel fresh, while the second will suffer by comparison.

2. What did you think of the main character, Saba?
I really loved Saba. As I was saying, her voice is a little too much like Todd’s, but her personality very much isn’t. Saba is irritable, impatient, impulsive, stubborn, not always fair, and yet still completely human and sympathetic. She’s tough and independent, but her independence doesn’t come from a refusal to accept help or rely on others. She’s difficult to get to know, but not unwilling to form close relationships. And she’s portrayed as strong in a way that defies traditional femininity, but, unlike what tends to happen with characters of this sort, is not contrasted with notions of “weakness” that I find extremely problematic.

3. What did you think of the Dystopian world that Moira Young has created? Is it believable?
First of all, I would probably call it post-apocalyptic rather than dystopian: see this very handy flowchart ;) But to answer the question, I absolutely loved the worldbuilding – it was one of my favourite things about the book. Blood Red Road is, among many other things, a quest/adventure novel, and as often happens in this type of story the protagonist leaves her familiar surroundings and discovers a wide world full of possibilities and dangers at the same time as the reader. Saba spends most of the novel worried sick about her brother Lugh, but you can tell she’s nevertheless experiencing the thrill of discovery. She wants to know more about this brave new world, and, as a result, so do you.

One of the things Moira Young said in Edinburgh was that she left the causes of the disaster that left the world of Blood Red Road in its current state vague on purpose – she felt that the effect would be more powerful if readers were allowed to fill in the gaps with their imagination, and I completely agree. But at the same time, she also said that her environmental concerns often find their way into her writing, and this clearly shows in Blood Red Road. For example, Silverlake has been suffering from a terrible draught for years, and as a result the lake now exists in name only. I found all the little hints of a civilisation driven to disaster by their abuse of natural resources subtle but very powerful.

4. The book had lots of secondary characters, which ones stood out for you? What were your thoughts on them?
First of all, I loved Emmi, Saba’s younger sister. Emmi is very different from Saba, but in her own way she’s just as resourceful and competent. The two of them have a very complicated relationship – as Saba herself confesses, she has resented Emmi her whole life because their mother died giving birth to her. Moira Young’s portrayal of their relationship – hostile at times, fiercely tender at others – was brilliant.

I also really liked the Free Hawks, a group of young women who live on the fringes of society and who befriend Saba and Emmi. And Saba’s pet crow was pretty awesome.

Finally, there’s Jack, Saba’s friend and love interest. Jack is a good character – he’s not the romanticised abusive jerk that plagues a certain type of YA these days, although at first I worried he would be. But all the same, the romance was my least favourite aspect of Blood Red Road, and I think the reason why was the combative language Young uses to describe it. The whole I-love-you-and-I-hate-you-I-want-you-and-I-don’t thing makes sense considering Saba’s personality and her difficulties with close relationships, but it still bothered me because it feeds into a wider cultural narrative according to which this is the way women act, period. They say no when they mean yes, and men are expected to press forward. They struggle with their own passion and eventually “give in” to men. I think the problem was not so much this book – let me repeat that Jack is not a jerk, and he does respect Saba – but the wider context in which it exists.

5. What was your favourite scene or part of this book?
It’s been too long since I finished it for me to be able to pick a favourite scene, so I’ll go with a favourite aspect: I loved the delicate balance Moira Young achieved with Saba’s characterisation. She was prime excepto-girl material, yet she never became one. She’s not portrayed as strong in comparison with the “weakness” of other women, but alongside other competent women who express their femininity in a myriad different ways. And as I was discussing with Jodie recently, the same goes for the men. Toughness and cooperation are never portrayed as polar opposites, nor are they gendered. Saba and her friends are competent on their own, but they know they can achieve more if they work together. Moira Young never feels the need to put down some characters to elevate others, and her characterisation is all the stronger for that.

6. Will you be reading on in the trilogy?
Yes, I will, though I probably won’t pre-order the next book and read it frantically once it comes out like I did with Chaos Walking. To anyone who worries when they see the word “trilogy”: fear not, there are no cliffhanger endings here. And although a few questions remain unanswered at the end, Blood Red Road can be read as a satisfying stand-alone novel.

They read it too: The Written World, Rhapsody in Books, Presenting Lenore, Good Books and Good Wine, Bookshelves of Doom, One Librarian’s Book Reviews

(Have I missed yours?)


  1. Brilliant remark about [the undesirability of] feeding into the wider cultural narrative! Must steal it for my next YA review which will inevitably be doing the same! ; :--)

  2. Love the flowchart! The lake sounds reminiscent of Camp Greenlake in Holes.

  3. Yeah, I enjoyed this book, but it wasn't my favourite ever. I really enjoyed Saba, though, so it made up for anything that might have bothered me. I think the same thing is getting addressed over and over again, so authors need something really fresh. And, that flow chart is useful. :)

  4. I just bought this book not all that long ago after reading some stellar reviews of it, and I am anxious to get to it because I feel it is a bit different than most of what's out there right now. I will have to keep some of these comments in mind when I read this one. Great interview post today, Ana!

  5. I am intrigued by this series. Post apocalyptic sounds right up my street.

  6. I received an unsolicited review copy of this months ago and have yet to get around to it... I feel like I really should, as this title does sound really good. Great review, and I loved the format of question-answer you chose to take with it. :D

  7. I love that flow chart! I'll put this one on the to-read list.

  8. Like others I love the flow chart. This one sounds intriguing, I really like your description of balance in the characters. Added to my TBR list...

  9. I've just bookmarked the flow chart in case I ever need it. I keep seeing Blood Red Road everywhere I go but had no idea what it was about. Thanks to you and Kelly for a great post.

  10. I loved the flow chart too. It's a good way of getting to know the different genre of books that I'm reading or want to read.

    Also, great review too. I might pick up the book to read. :) It's been a while since I've explored this genre.

  11. I certainly love post-apocalyptic, so I may have to grab this one. (I'd never even heard of it until your post with Jodie at LB.) But I do worry about the whole reminding me of Chaos Walking thing. Like you said, it might be unfair but Chaos Walking holds such a special place in my heart that this book sounds bound to suffer because of it.

  12. Sounds interesting. It's only normal for what we've already read to color our opinions. Both the series sounds great anyway.

  13. Jill: You're more than welcome to use it :D

    Jeanne: Can you believe I've yet to read that? Somehow I pair it in my head with Millions, which is another gap in my reading.

    Kelly: Same with me. She was a great protagonist! Thanks again for the questions :)

    Zibilee: I hope you enjoy it! To me it didn't feel as fresh, but the problem was mainly my reading history.

    Vivienne: Enjoy!

    Michelle: Thank you! The formart was really useful - I finished this in August and might not have remembered much otherwise :P

    Trisha: Very useful, isn't it? :D

    Gavin: I think there's plenty here you'll enjoy, particularly the environmental angle.

    Vasilly: Glad you enjoyed it!

    Josette: It is, isn't yet? The terms are used interchangeably but there really is a difference.

    Debi: It might be unfair, but we just can't help it! Still, it was a good read :)

    Joanna: Yes, you're absolutely right.

  14. Love your answer to 5 (and not just because my names in that paragraph) and your thoughts on the romance. I'm trying to think of a great way the 'I want you - I don't' thing could be subverted, without denying the reality of female characters who are really bad at negotiating intimate feelings...Maybe if the female character's thoughts showed her battling with her feelings, the reader would know she was conflicted all along. Failing that amount of conflicted self-awareness, omniscient narrator intervention, explaining the confusion under the apparently simple surface?

  15. I love the idea of a quest in a post apocalyptic world. This is definitely a series that I would love to start and vie not read Chaos Walking so this one won't suffer in comparison for me.


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