Sunday, May 8, 2011

Post-Apocalyptic Archetypes

Book Review: Blood Red Road by Moira Young

The new hot genre of the moment for young adult readers seems to be the Apocalypse, or rather the Post-Apocalypse. It's beginning to beg the question: how many ways can writers end the world before it actually happens?

Written in the form of a first-person narrative, Blood Red Road by Moira Young is the story of a young girl's journey to rescue her twin brother, set against a post-Apocalyptic background. Told in the backwoods dialect of the heroine, Saba, the story ranges from the deserts to the mountains of Saba's homeland. Along the way she picks up help from likely and unlikely fellow travelers. Saba comes of age in the course of her journey, in more ways than one, her horizons irrevocably expanded from her childhood home at Silverlake.

Admittedly, at times it feels that the book is simply a derivation of previous end times works like David Brin's The Postman. Even the cage fighting of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is invoked during Saba's effort to find and save her brother. Initially I found myself being critical of the story not being "original", and cynically ranking it as a re-working of other authors. I had to dig a little deeper into my own conceptions to rate this story correctly.

As with any genre of literature, post-Apocalyptic tales have common themes and characters. From the Book of Revelation through Stephen King's The Stand there is a continuity of concept in the balance between salvation and damnation. The inevitable struggles of the hero and the duplicity of the villain are grounded in symbols as old as human existence, and naturally find their way into accounts of the end of humanity as well. The commonality of human experience may be archetypal, but that is the very reason we celebrate it in literature.

Moira Young may be cultivating previously tilled soil, but she does it with style and enthusiasm. What saves Blood Red Road is what sets apart any work from its fellows: the Story. The book is eminently readable, the plot cohesive and understandable for its teen target audience, and adults as well. The action is fast but doesn't leave the reader behind in a cloud of verbal dust wondering what happened, or why. This is the debut novel for author Moira Young, and I look forward to further work from her.

[Reviewers note: There are now 3 books in the Dustlands series]