Saturday, May 12, 2012

Blood Red Road: Mean Sisters

Blood Red RoadI know other people have loved this YA Fantasy Cybils finalist, but not me. I found the characters repellent and useless in Moira Young's Blood Red Road. I'm not sure which sister is more repellent,  Emmi or Saba, although I guess we can hope that Emmi could change as she grows up. Saba is slowly learning to be less awful, but not less self-centered or dependent. The world building also didn't make sense; I dislike books with a single magical artifact which serves only to break the suspension of disbelief -- it's a huge crack in the post-apocalyptic setting.

At the start of the book, Saba is firmly established as an emotionally deficient person, who has resented her baby sister for nine years for causing the death of their mom. No, Saba is not ten or eleven at this point, which would make this stunted psyche palatable; she is eighteen. An eighteen year old who still holds an infant responsible for the death of its mother is not a very likable character. Anyway, we soon see that there are other reasons to dislike Emmi, so maybe I shouldn't judge Saba too harshly.

Saba spends the book trying to rescue her beloved twin brother who got kidnapped in the first section. She does this despite the assistance of Emmi, who at nine years old doesn't understand that she is not actually in any way an asset to this expedition. Yes, she can use a sling shot, but she also has no attention span, drops things, and has the stamina of a child, slowing down the more robust adults who are racing against the clock to save her brother. Oh well, at least she offers Saba the chance to grow emotionally, and after all, secondary characters aren't there for themselves but to offer Saba opportunities for growth or interaction. Emmi probably only kills two people with her antics, so not much harm done, right? Saba keeps trying to leave her somewhere safe, and is treated as a monster for not wanting to bring her kid sister into various war-zones.

Saba finds a love interest. We know he is her love interest because a magical doo-dad heats up whenever he is around. Also, he has good abs. Saba insults him horribly by not showering him with complements all the time (all the other characters frown so the reader can't fail to notice what a loser Saba is), but he is heroic enough to forgive her once she starts kissing him. I found their love affair emotionally distasteful, but understandable as a pair of lusty teenagers.

At the end of the book, I'm still wondering how awful was the death of Mercy, the neighbor woman who kindly took in Emmi only for the the girl to steal her horse and leave her injured and alone. At the end, the kids decide not to return to see how she fared, because that would be the decent thing to do, and the entire family avoids decency like the pustulent plague. Maybe the sequel addresses this.

The only thing I liked was the voice -- the sparse sentences and tone helped carry me through the story even when every member of this family accepted the love of strangers while selfishly backstabbing them or stealing their stuff. They are the kind of people that make for good stories, but I'd hate to actually encounter them. Probably the main problem was that Mercy was the person I could most identify with, so even though her part was tiny I never got over how the sisters used and discarded her so casually.

My seventh grader liked it a lot; he thinks people make tough choices in a post-apocalyptic world and I'm judging the girls too harshly. He found the plot fast moving, and that's the mark of a good book. 

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