This novel may, in part, have suffered the disadvantage of being read while/after I read Laini Taylor's emotionally chewy Days of Blood & Starlight. By contrast, Blood Red Road has the emotional depth of a rapidly evaporating puddle of rainwater.
I can't address my irritations with this novel without specifics, so...Below, thar be spoilers...
First, the plot was a collection of convenient coincidences. As a writer, plot isn't my strong point, but then, none of my novels have been optioned by Ridley Scott. One might expect a bit more narrative complexity from a novel that drew the esteemed director's eye.
Yes, indeedy, it is fast paced and somewhat actiony. I say somewhat because the story pulls its punches, literally, throughout the novel. Just when it feels like the characters might be in real jeopardy, someone shows up, just in the nick of time, and saves the day. The violence is very PG-rated, clean, and sanitized.
Things begin well enough, with Saba's father being killed by the mysterious Tonton (makes me think Star Wars), and kidnapping Saba's golden brother Llugh. Saba and Llugh are twins and so close that frankly, his abduction is probably the only thing that keeps the two from going all Flowers in the Attic with each other.
So, danger; people die. Good, so far. Saba immediately sets out to rescue her brother. There's a detour by a family friend's home to leave off her little sister Emmi (who exists primarily to get everyone else in trouble), but soon Saba is tracking Llugh across a sandy wasteland. Yeah, I don't understand how this works, since footprints in sand last a day, tops, usually less. Logic, who needs it?
Of course, Emmi arrives on scene just in time to ensure that they both get captured by a demented middle-age couple who conscript Saba into cage fights in rugged desert outpost. If one is expecting a gritty, grim and realistic portrayal of life as a female gladiator, uh, one will be tres
disappointed. Saba, who has led a very sheltered life up till now, soon becomes the famed, undefeated Angel of Death. Easy-peasy, no sweat, little blood, no anything except her "red hot" angry mode, which enables her to be queen of the cage.
Her escape comes courtesy of the Hawks, a group of Amazonian women who live in the desert and need her help to free one of their own and destroy the town. I don't know why. I guess because there's no Voice or American Idol to keep them occupied. Saba and the Hawks' leader cook up a plan, which works way too easily. Along the way, Saba rescues Jack, the love interest, who is way too perfect for a post-apocalyptic world. He's also inexplicable in love with Saba.
They flee into the desert, pursued by the villains, who have a convenient sail boat/plane-thing crash. Of course, Saba doesn't bother to check if everyone is really dead. The story progresses as such, with lots of precarious situations that resolve all too neatly.
There are few deaths sprinkled toward the end, but their emotional impact is minimal because the heroine, Saba, can be summed up in one word, feisty. I like a strong heroine, but emotional fortitude is defined by the challenges that the character faces. To put it simply, you can't be brave, if you aren't afraid. Saba is rarely genuinely afraid, or sad, or anything but...feisty.
Keep in mind, this is a very young woman who has lived a semi-idyllic life with her family in total isolation. Obviously, they've had hard times, but nothing on par with what Katniss of Hunger Games has experienced. I bring up Katniss because I picked up this novel based on a review that described Saba as a strong heroine, not whiny like Katniss. Lookie! It's my hackles, held high, me growling.
Katniss is not whiny. Katniss had to struggle with genuine adversity, first early in life -- starvation, depressed mother, etc. -- then through the cruel machinations of the Hunger Games. Throughout her journey, she is a real person with a wide range of emotions including fear and guilt.
Saba, in contrast, breezes merrily through cage fighting, and even the death, AT HER HAND, of her friend, Epona. The latter being one of those WTF moments in the plot. She and her friends go to great lengths to rescue Llugh, and then later, Emmi (when the little twit gets captured) from the antagonists, the Tonton and the King (sadly, not Elvis, because that would be fun). But...when one of the Hawks is about to get captured by the Tontons, the "only" option is for Saba to shoot her from afar, sparing her...something. Saba feels a twinge of guilt about sticking an arrow in her buddy, the emotion being an afterthought, possibly suggested by an editor, and soon after Saba forgets the matter. (But then again, because the secondary characterization is mostly thin as cheap toilet paper, I didn't care much about Epona's demise either.)
Honestly, she's less feisty and more like a sociopath. (Dexter, of the TV show by the same name is a sociopath, but even Dexter regularly shows more emotional complexity.)
2.5 stars, rounding up as a kindness, and because Nero, the crow, is wonderful.