YA writing often lives on surfaces: the girl with the blue eyes fights with the dude with the grey eyes, car chase, change of clothes, somebody dies, blue eyes and grey eyes kiss, to be continued. I find some storytellers exceptionally good at that type of writing. For example, Kristin Cashore knocked it out of the park with Graceling; Veronica Roth hit it with Divergent; and, of course, Suzanne Collins took that story, shook it all up, turned it upside down and used it as a mirror for the brokenness of humanity in Hunger Games. All of those authors talk in surfaces, but they still convey something I love. The prose does not stand alone, but the action does. As with anything, that seems to be a specific skill, and I’m sad to say that I think Moira Young is out of her element in that type of story but has decided to turn Saba’s adventure into that anyway.
To be fair, there was some thoughtful subtlety of relationship plot in this that I appreciated. It is so common to see male protagonists get seduced by a femme fatale and then go back to kicking ass, but you don’t really see that with female protagonists. You don’t see female protagonists making mistakes with sex, worrying about pregnancy, betraying the right guy but still being noble in heart, doing much but ultimately monogamously committing to the right guy. I have a lot of respect for Young’s introduction of more nuanced and complicated choices on Saba’s part. At the same time, though, I think there is a reason we don’t see female protagonists like that – because it is as douchey to listen to a girl talk about being seduced by a homme fatale as it is to listen to a man being seduced by a femme fatale. And I don’t really care if the douchiness is induced by a Discovery Channel orgasm – still douchey. It was tough to watch a kickass girl, who I loved so much in the first book, be so
douchey in this book. I don’t feel like it was more tough than watching Harry Potter be douchey in the fifth HP, or, say, than watching a friend say something douchey, but, nevertheless, Saba has some seriously douchey moments in this book, and it was itchy to read that.
Digression about douchiness: it is really fun to watch TV shows in which douchey people get punched in the face a lot. For example, one of the best things about How I Met Your Mother
is how you get to see Barney Stinson, the douchiest guy on the planet, get punched in the face all the time. Likewise, Vampire Diaries
is fun because you get to see the Dawson’s Creek
characters get eaten by vampires. I struggle with watching characters I love become douchey, though. While, in real life, we probably all have our douchey moments, and maybe a slice of douchiness adds some realism to a story, I do not go to YA fantasy for realism. I would rather see stories with male protagonists lose the douchiness (or save it for the characters getting punched in the face and eaten by vampires) than see stories with female protagonists pick up the douchiness. I know you can make a good argument about it validating girls making mistakes, and that’s fair, but I just don’t find it very entertaining in either male or female protagonists. And here I am now, entertain me.
Even though Saba was an asshole in the first book, I could get behind that. My friend has this rule that if you are more funny than you are mean, you are okay. For me, too, if your amount of badassery outweighs your assholiness, you are okay. And, in the first book, Saba’s badassery was crazy high, while her assholiness was moderate. In this book, she has very little badassery, and her assholiness was gone but replaced with douchiness. In the roshambo of unfortunate character traits, douchiness can only be dominated by a punch in the face. Sorry, Saba, but I would stand in line to deck you or smash you with a cream pie. I would put a banana peel outside of your tent just to watch you slip on it. For your own good.
My point is that I think I figured out why the first half of Blood Red Road was so beautiful, and the second half fell so flat. The first half lived in cracks and dwelt on Saba. Saba did things: she discovered the land and people around her and defended herself, but it still had a good balance of dwelling in moments. It was magic to me. It was not in the typical style of surface-action YA, and there was only loose plot, but I loved that about it. I think the ability to pause and consider and dig deep into a character is more valuable than the ability to plot, though I do appreciate both. So, when Young captured that in the first part of BRR, it really knocked me out more than YA typically does.
Once BRR stopped digging into Saba and her surroundings and started skimming the surface, though, it got boring and kind of lame. This second book continued with the skimming, and that is not Young’s talent in my estimation. She doesn’t pull it off as solidly as Cashore, Roth, or Collins. Even in this book, for the brief moment when Saba dropped the other characters, the story got really interesting. For the most part, though, it was scattered and the plotting seemed simplistic, while at the same time it made very little sense. There were loose ends, dangling characters, and fuzzy motivation. I’ll always have a special place in my heart for the first part of Blood Red Road, but Rebel Heart
is not the series I married anymore.
Also, I want to kick Lugh so hard in the balls that he sees stars until this whole series is over.
The publisher provided me with a copy of this book. Also, fun fact: it took me exactly the time of my flight (with one stop) from Portland to Chicago last week to read this book. I started reading when the first plane took off, and I finished when the second plane prepared for landing. High five on that, book.