This fast-paced YA debut novel has it all: smart, savvy characters making their way through an eerily dystopian society, with all the requisite action, adventure and romance characteristic of the genre vividly and at times, chillingly, portrayed.
In a wild and lawless future, where life is cheap and survival is hard, eighteen-year-old Saba lives with her father, her twin brother Lugh, her young sister Emmi and her pet crow Nero. Theirs is a hard and lonely life. The family resides in a secluded shed, their nearest neighbour living many miles away and the lake, their only source of water and main provider of food, gradually dying from the lack of rain. But Saba's father refuses to leave the place where he buried his beloved wife, Allis, nine years ago. Allis died giving birth to Emmi, and Saba has never forgiven her sister for their mother's death.
But while she despises Emmi, Saba adores her twin brother Lugh. Golden-haired and blue-eyed, loving and good, he seems the complete opposite to dark-haired Saba, who is full of anger and driven by a ruthless survival instinct. To Saba, Lugh is her light and she is his shadow, he is the day, she is the nighttime, he is beautiful, she is ugly, he is good, she is bad.
So Saba's small world is brutally torn apart, when a group of armed riders arrives five day's after the twin's eighteenth birthday snatch Lugh away. Saba's rage is so wild, that she manages to drive the men away, but not before they have captured Lugh and killed their father.
And here begins Saba's epic quest to rescue Lugh, during which she is tested by trials she could not have imagined, and one that takes the reader on breathtaking ride full or romance, physical adventure and unforgettably vivid characters, making this a truly sensational YA debut novel.
From the Hardcover edition.
MOIRA YOUNG was born in New Westminster, BC, where she attended the University of British Columbia before heading to the UK to study drama. After a few years of performing on the alternative comedy circuit and tap-dancing on a West End stage, Young returned to Vancouver where she successfully trained as an opera singer. Returning to the UK, she sang in some of London's most prestigious venues. Young has now returned to her first love - writing - with her debut novel, Blood Red Road. Moira Young lives in Bath, England with her husband.
From the Hardcover edition.
The day’s hot. So hot an so dry that all I can taste in my mouth is dust. The kinda white heat day when you can hear th’earth crack.
We ain’t had a drop of rain fer near six months now. Even the spring that feeds the lake’s startin to run dry. You gotta walk some ways out now to fill a bucket. Pretty soon, there won’t be no point in callin it by its name.
Every day Pa tries another one of his charms or spells. An every day, big bellied rainclouds gather on the horizon. Our hearts beat faster an our hopes rise as they creep our way. But, well before they reach us, they break apart, thin out an disappear. Every time.
Pa never says naught. He jest stares at the sky, the clear cruel sky. Then he gathers up the stones or twigs or whatever he’s set out on the ground this time, an puts ’em away fer tomorrow. Today, he shoves his hat back. Tips his head up an studies the sky fer a long while.
I do believe I’ll try a circle, he says. Yuh, I reckon a circle might be jest the thing.
Lugh’s bin sayin it fer a while now. Pa’s gittin worse. With every dry day that passes, a little bit more of Pa seems to . . . I guess disappear’s the best word fer it.
Once we could count on pullin a fish from the lake an a beast from our traps. Fer everythin else, we planted some, foraged some, an, all in all, we made out okay. But fer the last year, whatever we do, however hard we try, it jest ain’t enough. Not without rain. We bin watchin the land die, bit by bit.
An it’s the same with Pa. Day by day, what’s best in him withers away. Mind you, he ain’t bin right fer a long time. Not since Ma died. But what Lugh says is true. Jest like the land, Pa’s gittin worse an his eyes look more’n more to the sky instead of what’s here in front of him.
I don’t think he even sees us no more. Not really.
Emmi runs wild these days, with filthy hair an a runny nose. If it warn’t fer Lugh, I don’t think she’d ever wash at all. Before Emmi was born, when Ma was still alive an everythin was happy, Pa was different. Ma could always make him laugh. He’d chase me an Lugh around, or throw us up over his head till we shrieked fer him to stop. An he’d warn us about the wickedness of the world beyond Silverlake. Back then, I didn’t think there could be anybody ever lived who was taller or stronger or smarter’n our pa.
I watch him outta the corner of my eye while me an Lugh git on with repairs to the shanty roof. The walls is sturdy enough, bein that they’re made from tires all piled one on top of th’other. But the wicked hotwinds that whip across the lake sneak their way into the smallest chink an lift whole parts of the roof at once. We’re always havin to mend the damn thing.
So, after last night’s hotwind, me an Lugh was down at the landfill at first light scavenging. We dug around a part of it we ain’t never tried before an damn if we didn’t manage to score ourselves some primo Wrecker junk. A nice big sheet of metal, not too rusted, an a cookin pot that’s still got its handle.
Lugh works on the roof while I do what I always do, which is clamber up an down the ladder an hand him what he needs. Nero does what he always does, which is perch on my shoulder an caw real loud, right in my ear, to tell me what he’s thinkin. He’s always got a opinion does Nero, an he’s real smart too. I figger if only we could unnerstand crow talk, we’d find he was tellin us a thing or two about the best way to fix a roof.
He’ll of thought about it, you can bet on that. He’s watched us fix it fer five year now. Ever since I found him fell outta the nest an his ma nowhere to be seen. Pa warn’t too happy to see me bring a crow babby home. He told me some folk consider crows bring death, but I was set on rearin him by hand an once I set my mind on somethin I stick with it. An then there’s Emmi. She’s doin what she always does, which is pester me an Lugh. She dogs my heels as I go from the ladder to the junk pile an back.
I wanna help, she says.
Hold the ladder then, I says.
No! I mean really help! All you ever let me do is hold the ladder!
Well, I says, maybe that’s all yer fit fer. You ever think of that?
She folds her arms across her skinny little chest an scowls at me. Yer mean, she says.
So you keep tellin me, I says.
I start up the ladder, a piece of rusty metal in my hand, but I ain’t gone more’n three rungs before she takes hold an starts shakin it. I grab on to stop myself from fallin. Nero squawks an fl aps off in a flurry of feathers. I glare down at Em. Cut that out! I says. What’re you tryin to do, break my neck?
Lugh’s head pops over the side of the roof. All right, Em, he says, that’s enough. Go help Pa.
Right away, she lets go. Emmi always does what Lugh tells her.
But I wanna help you, she says with her sulky face.
We don’t need yer help, I says. We’re doin jest fine without you.
Yer the meanest sister that ever lived! I hate you, Saba!
Good! Cuz I hate you too!
That’s enough! says Lugh. Both of yuz!
Emmi sticks her tongue out at me an stomps off. I shin up the ladder onto the roof, crawl along an hand him the metal sheet.
I swear I’m gonna kill her one of these days, I says.
She’s only nine, Saba, says Lugh. You might try bein nice to her fer a change.
I grunt an hunker down nearby. Up here on the roof, I can see everythin. Emmi ridin around on her rickety two-wheeler that Lugh found in the landfill. Pa at his spell circle.
It ain’t nuthin more’n a bit of ground that he leveled off by stompin it down with his boots. We ain’t permitted nowhere near it, not without his say so. He’s always fussin around, sweepin clear any twigs or sand that blow onto it. He ain’t set out none of the sticks fer his rain circle on the ground yet. I watch as he lays down the broom. Then he takes three steps to the right an three steps to the left. Then he does it agin. An agin.
You seen what Pa’s up to? I says to Lugh.
He don’t raise his head. Jest starts hammerin away at the sheet to straighten it.
I seen, he says. He did it yesterday too. An the day before. What’s all that about? I says. Goin right, then left, over an over.
How should I know? he says. His lips is pressed together in a tight line. He’s got that look on his face agin. The blank look he gits when Pa says somethin or asks him to do somethin. I see it on him more an more these days.
Lugh! Pa lifts his head, shadin his eyes. I could use yer help here, son!
Foolish old man, Lugh mutters. He gives the metal sheet a extra hard whack with the hammer.
Don’t say that, I says. Pa knows what he’s doin. He’s a star reader.
Lugh looks at me. Shakes his head, like he cain’t believe I jest said what I did.
Ain’t you figgered it out yet? It’s all in his head. Made up. There ain’t nuthin written in the stars. There ain’t no great plan. The world goes on. Our lives jest go on an on in this gawdfersaken place. An that’s it. Till the day we die. I tell you what, Saba, I’ve took about all I can take.
I stare at him.
Lugh! Pa yells.
I’m busy! Lugh yells back.
Right now, son!
Lugh swears unner his breath. He throws the hammer down, pushes past me an pratikally runs down the ladder. He rushes over to Pa. He snatches the sticks from him an throws ’em to the ground. They scatter all over.
There! Lugh shouts. There you go! That should help! That should make the gawdam rain come! He kicks Pa’s new-swept spell circle till the dust flies. He pokes his finger hard into Pa’s chest. Wake up, old man! Yer livin in a dream! The rain ain’t never gonna come! This hellhole is dyin an we’re gonna die too if we stay here. Well, guess what? I ain’t doin it no more!
I’m outta here!
I knew this would come, says Pa. The stars told me you was unhappy, son. He reaches out an puts a hand on Lugh’s arm. Lugh flings it off so fierce it makes Pa stagger backwards. Yer crazy, you know that? Lugh shouts it right in his face. The stars told you! Why don’t you jest try listenin to what I say fer once?
He runs off. I hurry down the ladder. Pa’s starin at the ground, his shoulders slumped.
I don’t unnerstand, he says. I see the rain comin. . . . I read it in the stars but . . . it don’t come. Why don’t it come? It’s okay, Pa, says Emmi. I’ll help you. I’ll put ’em where you want. She scrabbles about on her knees, collectin all the sticks. She looks at him with a anxious smile.
Lugh didn’t mean it Pa, she says. I know he didn’t.
I go right on past ’em.
I know where Lugh’s headed.
I find him at Ma’s rock garden.
He sits on the ground, in the middle of the swirlin patterns, the squares an circles an little paths made from all different stones, each their own shade an size. Every last tiny pebble set out by Ma with her own hands. She wouldn’t allow that anybody should help her.
She carefully laid the last stone in place. Sat back on her heels an smiled at me, rubbin at her big babby-swolled belly. Her long golden hair in a braid over one shoulder.
There! You see, Saba? There can be beauty anywhere. Even here. An if it ain’t there, you can make it yerself.
The day after that, she birthed Emmi. A month too early. Ma bled fer two days, then she died. We built her funeral pyre high an sent her spirit back to the stars. Once we’d scattered her ash to the winds, all we was left with was Em.
A ugly little red scrap with a heartbeat like a whisper. More like a newborn mouse than a person. By rights, she shouldn’t of lasted longer’n a day or two. But somehow she hung on an she’s still here. Small fer her age though, an scrawny.
Fer a long time, I couldn’t stand even lookin at her. When Lugh says I shouldn’t be so hard on her, I says that if it warn’t fer Emmi, Ma ’ud still be alive. He ain’t got no answer to that cuz he knows it’s true, but he always shakes his head an says somethin like, It’s time you got over it, Saba, an that kinda thing.
I put up with Emmi these days, but that’s about as far as it goes.
Now I set myself down on the hard-packed earth so’s my back leans against Lugh’s. I like it when we sit like this. I can feel his voice rumble inside my body when he talks. It must of bin like this when the two of us was inside Ma’s belly together. Esseptin that neether of us could talk then, of course.
We sit there fer a bit, silent. Then, We should of left here a long time ago, he says. There’s gotta be better places’n this. Pa should of took us away.
You ain’t really leavin, I says.
Ain’t I? There ain’t no reason to stay. I cain’t jest sit around
waitin to die.
Where would you go?
It don’t matter. Anywhere, so long as it ain’t Silverlake.
But you cain’t. It’s too dangerous.
We only got Pa’s word fer that. You do know that you an me ain’t ever bin more’n one day’s walk in any direction our whole lives. We never see nobody essept ourselves. That ain’t true, I says. What about that crazy medicine woman on her camel last year? An . . . we see Potbelly Pete. He’s always got a story or two about where he’s bin an who he’s seen.
I ain’t talkin about some shyster pedlar man stoppin by every couple of months, he says. By the way, I’m still sore about them britches he tried to unload on me last time. They was hummin all right, I says. Like a skunk wore ’em last. Hey wait, you fergot Procter.
Our only neighbor’s four leagues north of here. He’s a lone man, name of Procter John. He set up homestead jest around the time Lugh an me got born. He drops by once a month or so. Not that he ever stops proper, mind. He don’t git down offa his horse, Hob, but jest pulls up by the hut. Then he says the same thing, every time.
G’day, Willem. How’s the young ’uns? All right?
They’re fi ne, Procter, says Pa. You?
Well enough to last a bit longer.
Then he tips his hat an goes off an we don’t see him fer another month. Pa don’t like him. He never says so, but you can tell. You’d think he’d be glad of somebody to talk to besides us, but he never invites Procter to stay an take a dram. Lugh says it’s on account of the chaal. We only know that’s what it’s called because one time I asked Pa what it is that Procter’s always chewin an Pa’s face went all tight an it was like he didn’t wanna tell us. But then he said it’s called chaal an it’s poison to the mind an soul, an if anybody ever offers us any we’re to say no. But since we never see nobody, such a offer don’t seem too likely.
Now Lugh shakes his head. You cain’t count Procter John, he says. Nero’s got more conversation than him. I swear, Saba, if I stay here, I’ll eether go crazy or I’ll end up killin Pa. I gotta go.
I scramble around, kneel in front of him.
I’m comin with you, I says.
Of course, he says. An we’ll take Emmi with us.
I don’t think Pa ’ud let us, I says. An she wouldn’t wanna go anyways. She’d rather stay with him.
You mean you’d rather she stayed, he says. We gotta take her with us, Saba. We cain’t leave her behind.
What about . . . maybe if you was to talk to Pa, he might see sense, I says. Then we could all go to a new place together.
He won’t, Lugh says. He cain’t leave Ma.
Whaddya mean? I says. Ma’s dead.
Lugh says, What I mean is . . . him an Ma made this place together an, in his mind, she’s still here. He cain’t leave her memory, that’s what I’m sayin.
But we’re the ones still alive, I says. You an me.
An Emmi, he says. I know that. But you see how he is. It’s like we don’t exist. He don’t give two hoots fer us.
Lugh thinks fer a moment. Then he says, Love makes you weak. Carin fer somebody that much means you cain’t think straight. Look at Pa. Who’d wanna end up like him? I ain’t never gonna love nobody. It’s better that way.
I don’t say naught. Jest trace circles in the dirt with my finger.
My gut twists. Like a mean hand reached right inside me an grabbed it.
Then I says, What about me?
Yer my sister, he says. It ain’t the same.
But what if I died? You’d miss me, wouldn’t you?
Huh, he says. Fat chance of you dyin an leavin me in peace. Always followin me everywhere, drivin me nuts. Since the day we was born.
It ain’t my fault yer the tallest thing around, I says. You make a good sunshade.
Hey! He pushes me onto my back.
I push him with my foot. Hey yerself ! I prop myself up on my elbows. Well, I says, would you?
Don’t be stupid, he says.
I kneel in front of him. He looks at me. Lugh’s got eyes as blue as the summer sky. Blue as the clearest water. Ma used to say his eyes was so blue, it made her want to sail away on ’em. I’d miss you, I says. If you died, I’d miss you so much I’d wanna kill myself.
Don’t talk foolish, Saba.
Promise me you won’t, I says.
Everybody’s gotta die one day, he says.
I reach out an touch his birthmoon tattoo. High on his right cheekbone, jest like mine, it shows how the moon looked in the sky the night we was born. It was a full moon that midwinter. That’s a rare thing. But twins born unner a full moon at the turnin of the year, that’s even rarer. Pa did the tattoos hisself, to mark us out as special.
We was eighteen year our last birthday. That must be four month ago, near enough.
When we die, I says, d’you think we’ll end up stars together, side by side?
You gotta stop thinkin like that, he says. I told you, that’s jest Pa’s nonsense.
Go on then, if you know so much, tell me what happens when you die.
I dunno. He sighs an flops back on the ground, squintin at the sky. You jest . . . stop. Yer heart don’t beat no more, you don’t breathe an then yer jest . . . gone.
An that’s it, I says.
Well that’s stupid, I says. I mean, we spend our lives doin all this . . . sleepin an eatin an fixin roofs an then it all jest . . . ends. Hardly seems worth the trouble.
Well, that’s the way it is, he says.
You . . . hey Lugh, you wouldn’t ever leave without me, would you?
Of course not, he says. But even if I did, you’d only follow me.
I will follow you . . . everywhere you go! When I say it, I make crazy eyes an a crazy face because it creeps him out when I do that. To the bottom of the lake, I says, . . . to the ends of the earth . . . to the moon . . . to the stars. . . !
Shut up! He leaps to his feet. Bet you don’t follow me to skip rocks, he says an runs off.
Hey! I yell. Wait fer me!
From the Hardcover edition.