When The Hunger Games came out a few years ago, author Suzanne Collins had no idea she was popularizing a whole sub-genre of fantasy — the dystopian romance. With all the sub-par Hunger Games copycats out there, it’s hard not to be cynical. However, I am here to tell you that there is HOPE. Blood Red Road by Moira Young has it all! A fast moving, edge-of-your-seat story, a super kick-ass heroine, amazing action, and an epic romance that just might have you saying, “Peeta who?”
The story opens in an unnamed, post-apocalyptic wasteland on the edge of nowhere. Saba lives there on a hardscrabble farm with her father, her 9 year old sister Emmi, and her twin brother Lugh. Lugh is the center of her world. He is more than her brother — he’s her best friend and the one person she can trust in all things. With their father a broken man, Saba knows that he is the one keeping them all alive and safe. On their 18th birthdays, out of a dust storm come riders who kidnap Lugh and leave death and destruction in their wake. Saba and Emmi’s only choice is to go after him. They know that he would do it for them, and besides, they don’t know how to live without him.
Not long after they start their journey, they end up prisoners themselves in a frontier outpost called Hopetown. With her fighting skills, Saba has been put in the Cage and has earned the nickname “The Angel of Death.” In the Cage, a fighter is only allowed to lose three times before they are killed, literally torn apart by a drugged-out, hyped-up, screaming audience. Naturally, Saba sends fighter after fighter to their deaths. She also finds out where and why Lugh has been taken, and meets Jack and the Free Hawks. Jack is a handsome charmer who ... umm, I think I'll save Jack for later. The Free Hawks are a group of fast moving, tough, outlaw girls who are just about the best friends any girl on an epic journey could ask for. Now add to that monsters, hygiene-challenged villains, a super-smart black crow, and plenty of blood, guts, and shooting. This is an adventure that will keep you reading far into the night.
Young, a first-time Canadian author, is a top-notch writer. Immediately, the reader is in Saba’s head and hears the dialogue from her point of view, without quotation marks. She thinks in short, action-packed sentences (she doesn’t waste time explaining her feelings), and she and the other characters speak in a lazy, western drawl with lots of “gits,” “caints,” and “fers.” The colloquialisms engage instead of distract — the reader is right there with them in the cages, in the middle of a post-apocalyptic nightmare.
I did promise you romance, and it’s there alright. In the midst of all that fighting and death, it sneaks in. Jack is the ultimate charming bad boy. The first time they meet he slowly runs his eyes over her body and then he smiles...
...a lopsided crook of a smile at her.
My fists clench. Cocky bastard. Who does he think he is?
So I do the same to him. I cross my arms over my chest and look him up an down.
Brown hair to his shoulders. Silver grey eyes in a tanned face. High cheekbones, a shadow of a beard. Crooked nose like it’s bin broke. He’s got twenny three, twenny four year on him. Lean but strong lookin. Like he knows how to take care of hisself.
Our eyes meet agin. Like what you see, Angel? he says. You ain’t my type, I says.
Of course, Saba wants to punch Jack most of the time, but we all know how that goes. For all that Saba does to push Jack away, for all the hollerin’ they do at each other, there is no denying their attraction. And, whew! (spoiler alert!), be careful readers, there are a few scenes you will be wanting to read over and over again.
In short, Blood Red Road is a worthy successor to The Hunger Games. Saba could go more than a few rounds with Katniss Everdeen and probably even win (that's right, I said it!). It is the first in a series, and it's also already been optioned for a movie. I promise that it is way better than most of the other dystopian romances out there. For some other awesome books about love in the worst of times, check out Andrea’s blog post "Dystopian Romances for 'Hunger Games' Fans" or this Bibliocommons list of "Hunger Games Read-a-Likes."