I’m going to try my best to do a decent review of this book even though I’ve read 2.25 since I finished it. Why? Because, for me, it was one of the most highly anticipated releases of the year. That’s right, I FINALLY got my hands on Moira Young‘s Rebel Heart, sequel to Blood Red Road in the Dust Lands trilogy.
“It’s late afternoon. Since morning, the trail’s been following a line of light towers. That is, the iron remains of what used to be light towers, way back in Wrecker days, time out of mind.”
After going through hell to defeat the Tonton and rescue her kidnapped brother, Lugh, Saba is haunted by the memories of murders she had to commit along the way and tormented by the absence of Jack. When she gets news that Jack has betrayed her by going over to the Tonton, Saba abandons her brother’s quest to find the ocean and start a new life to find him. But finding Jack and making sense of his betrayal means going right into the belly of the beast; the territory of the reformed Tonton, headed by a foe from her past who has put a price on her head. But once Saba sets her mind on something, nothing can stop her, even if it means dragging everyone else down with her.
First of all, I want to start by saying that this cover is fucking terrible. Who is that dude even supposed to be? What is this, some trashy romance novel? Where did that dude (I honestly have NO IDEA who he is) even get all those clean clothes? Moira Young’s Dustlands books are about as bleak and gritty a (teen) vision of post-apocalyptic future as you can get, and the brutality of this world is a total mismatch for this weird cover.
Describing the plot of this book is kind of challenging because unfortunately, plot wasn’t really Moira Young’s strong point in this novel. I love her writing, I really do, but there were times where I had to pause and ask myself what the hell was going on, why so -and-so was doing what they were doing, and if this or that plan was really as weirdly non-planish as it seemed or if I was missing something. This is not to say that Young isn’t a good storyteller–she is–but I think what she excels at is creating an atmosphere, a mood, a setting, which is so vitally important in this post-apocalyptic world. Because, for me, the hook when I first read Blood Red Road wasn’t that it was the best story I had ever read. I loved Young’s experimental use of language–the way she abandoned conventional grammar and manipulated our own standard English to reflect what it might look like hundreds of years in the future on the tongues of people who can’t even comprehend what reading might be. I loved Saba, the brutal badass who fought her way through gladiator style cage matches and giant sand worm things to rescue her brother.
And all those things are still here. Young’s prose is stark and reflective of the broken world she has created. But she doesn’t do enough in this second installment to make it really pop the way Blood Red Road did. I went into it knowing what the writing would be like, so there was no sense of fresh unexpected with this, just a series of often empty plot points that seemed a bit disconnected while Saba dragged her confused heart around. There are heaps of plot holes that I am really, really hoping get filled with the third book in the trilogy, most pressingly the completely abandoned shaman healing/ghost plot thread. And therein lies the difficulty in reviewing this book–it’s the second part of a trilogy, and so I have no idea if any of the holes that bugged the crap out of me in this weren’t really holes, just happy little ellipses waiting to be filled in the third book.
I was OK with Saba reading as a slightly different character than the one I loved in Blood Red Road–she went through and had to do some horrible things to rescue her brother, and it is only natural that she will have some psychic blowback from all that. However, the PTSD plot-line was all but abandoned as soon as it started getting juicy, and then she was just kind of obnoxious the way heartsick teenagers tend to be.
The Jack-DeMalo-Tommo-Saba love square was a bit much. I mean, can we all just pause and address the fact that Tommo was a child in the first book? It’s bad enough that we need to throw DeMalo in there as a weird obsessive rebound dude (that whole waterfall falcon scene was…odd), but Tommo has surpassed puberty so therefore he has to become a romantic character? Give me a break.
Despite all that, I still really liked this book. Moira Young’s superior writing ability rescued what could have been a hot mess of angsty love squares and elevated it to something enjoyable. I am totally comfortable recommending it to fans of the first book AND very much looking forward to the third. All this vitriol? It mostly comes from disappointment. Blood Red Road was such a stellar book that captured the desperate yet fierce solitude of Saba’s situation beautifully, whereas Rebel Heart (oy, the title. It really doesn’t measure up to its predecessor) really just felt like a sequel that got bogged down by a muddled plot. I wanted more from this book. End of story.
Music is easy. Even though Saba’s Angel of Death days are over, Slayer’s song of the same title will always belong to her.
Where I got it: The library