I’d heard that Moira Young’s Blood Red Road was very similar to The Hunger Games, so as a Hunger Games fan, I was eager to check it out. There are certainly similarities: Blood Red Road also takes place in a dystopian future, the heroine Saba is an archer like Katniss, and Saba has to compete in a gladiator style Cage Match to the death like Katniss has to survive in the Hunger Games. Overall, however, I don’t think Blood Red Road quite matches up, at the very least in terms of the breadth of social commentary in Hunger Games. While Hunger Games delivers a scathing portrayal of contemporary society’s obsession with consumerism and voyeurism, Blood Red Road reads more like a straightforward action-adventure story, with its social commentary focused on the dangers of drug addiction.
That being said, Blood Red Road is still a very good book. It has a heroine much fiercer than Katniss, UFC-style fight scenes, language that reminded me of the dialogue in The Grapes of Wrath and a landscape and drug culture that reminded me of Dune. Saba’s twin brother Lugh (the “light” to Saba’s “shadow”) is kidnapped and Saba sets off to rescue him. Along the way, she is captured and forced to compete in no-holds-barred cage fighting, where she earns the nickname Angel of Death: when she fights, the “red hot” takes over and she can’t lose. People are addicted to chaal, a drug controlled by a King, and this addiction makes them either suppliant or, after a certain point, filled with bloodlust (hence the need for deathly cage fights). Saba also encounters a group of young female warrior rebels and a handsome young thief called Jack.
Young writes well. This type of writing (filled with intentional misspellings and grammatical errors) usually grates on me, but, as with Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking trilogy, I thought it worked here. Blood Red Road is a fast-paced, action-packed, exciting read. It’s already been optioned for a motion picture by Ridley Scott, and I can certainly imagine some of the scenes playing out on screen. The secondary characters are well developed and likable. I especially liked Jack, who is charming, funny and sweet. Saba’s younger sister Emmi is usually the kind of character I’d hate in books and movies, the kid who always gets involved in things and so has to be rescued several times. But I really felt for Emmi in this book, and I think it has a lot to do with my major problem with the book: Saba.
I liked Saba as a narrator, but I don’t really like her as a person. I do like that her survival instinct is so strong that she dominates the cage fights. I also like that she is so devoted to her brother, even though it’s clear (Jack even tells her so) that she puts him on too high a pedestal. We do see her vulnerability at times, and also her protective instinct toward Emmi.
Thing is, as one character says, Saba is “prickly.” Beyond that, she can be downright mean, especially to Emmi. A lot of the time, other characters were offering Saba help and friendship and she kept turning them away, preferring to be a lone wolf even when it wasn’t practical. She has to be forced to accept help, and for me, at least, she hadn’t shown enough of her vulnerability to make this anything but annoying.
I was most annoyed by Saba’s relationship with Jack. It followed a standard “I hate you (but secretly I love you)” type love story. But after a while, Saba’s insistence that she really, really hates Jack just felt forced, like the author just wanted to stretch it out just a bit longer. Perhaps it’s because I didn’t really see why Saba was so defensive, unlike in Hunger Games, for example, where I could really understand how Katniss’ society had made her so defensive and afraid to trust anyone.