Saturday, January 14, 2012

Give it up for Saba

There's another dystopian novel that everyone's talking about -- Moira Young's debut novel Blood Red Road. It has recently won the Costa for Best Young Adult Novel, so I think that more and more people will be discovering this satisfying work of contemporary YA fiction.

Young's protagonist, Saba, is predictably strong willed. Saba lives in a dried-up area called Silverlake with her father, her twin brother Lugh, and her youngest sister Emmi. One day, a group of hooded riders abduct Lugh. Saba's father is also killed, and Saba promises to herself that she'll do whatever it takes to get Lugh back.

In the world of Blood Red Road, I kept asking myself where could Silverlake be? I keep thinking that it's somewhere in North America, where the weather has been so f****d up that it hardly rains anymore, resulting in the land's arid climate. Young never does disclose where Silverlake is, much less the reasons for Earth's condition in the novel. I guess it's a technique to compel readers to anticipate the rest of the books of the trilogy.

The language of the novel is something that takes getting used to. It's made up of broken English with hardly any regard for tenses, subject-verb agreements (gasp!), and punctuation marks to set off dialogue. Still, the rhythm of Young's dialogue is very engaging that I never did pay attention to these details while I was reading.
The day's hot. So hot an dry that all I can taste in my mouth is dust. The kinda white heat day when you can hear th'earth crack.
We ain't had a drop of rain fer near six months now. Even the spring that feeds the lake's startin to run dry. You gotta walk some ways out now to fill a bucket. Pretty soon, there won't be no point in callin it by its name. [page 7]
Of course, there's so much more to this novel than just a story about one girl's quest. While the world building isn't as extensive as fantasy readers are used to, the circumstances in Blood Red Road did appeal to my love of the escapist and the speculative. It's a world where people have been addicted to a drug called chaal, which is controlled by a very powerful king called Pinch. And Saba's twin somehow plays a role in keeping the king in power for the next 6 years.

There's something derivative about Blood Red Road though. I couldn't quite put my finger on it. Maybe it's the story of the quest. Or perhaps Saba's nature which can get quite predictable in this genre. Nevertheless, Young's debut is outstanding. It is difficult to write another dystopian novel at a time when The Hunger Games is extremely popular. But Blood Red Road is more grounded in its themes, more plausible in its story. And for a first book of a trilogy, it has successfully done its purpose -- to make the reader hungry for the next book.

Read this book if:
  1. You love dystopian fiction.
  2. Broken English narrative doesn't bother you.
  3. You can be patient in waiting for the rest of the books of a trilogy or series.