Nero is the best crow ever, even better than Hempel's Raven. Seriously: he plays craps and wins. This is possibly the Most Important Part of this reviNero is the best crow ever, even better than Hempel's Raven. Seriously: he plays craps and wins. This is possibly the Most Important Part of this review, so it goes first.
Blood Red Road is basically Knife of Never Letting Go (although I actually got more vibes from the anime Now and Then, Here and There from this) by way of Cormac McCarthy. Which is an excellent thing indeed.
Yes, this means that dialogue does not have quotation marks. Yes, this means that the language tends towards dialectese. I don't have a problem with that, given that Saba appears to be illiterate (or functionally so), which lends credence to her voice. Your mileage may vary.
Stylistics aside, this is a very good story indeed. It is brutal without being gratuitous and bleak without being soul-crushingly hopeless. Saba herself is the sort of character I'd like to see more of in the YA dystopians: she is deeply flawed yet still human, keeping her from falling into either the "Strong" Female Character archetype (as opposed to strong character (female)) or the Morose Pit of Blackest Despair archetype (is that an archetype? Am making things up). Saba narrates in a straightforward tone, with no moralizing or politicizing digressions: straight-up, this is how this world is stuff.
Of particular note is Saba's relationship with Jack. I will admit that I thought "really? do we need this?" when Saba's heartstone indicated that Jack was her Heart's Desire, but it turned out to be rather well-done. The obvious romance kindling between the two is subtle (if in a very overt way, if such a thing is possible), develops in a very natural way, and never overtakes the true trajectory of the story, which is Saba's quest to rescue her brother Lugh. Too often (especially in YA) romance can sort of crowd out the rest of the story, and while I am quite fond of romance stories, generally speaking, bleak dystopian novels about murderous drug cultists and crowds of people ripping gladiators to shreds are not typically good settings for d'awwww-inducing romances. So having a low-key romantic subplot that didn't defy previously-established characterizations was rather quite refreshing.
I will point out that I did go d'awwwww a lot over Nero, especially the winning at craps bit. Or perhaps I should say I went c'awwwww. I think that that is a sign I should stop writing this review now....more
This is, by and large, an excellent unpacking of children's/YA science fiction, from the perspective of an academic SF scholar wondering why children'This is, by and large, an excellent unpacking of children's/YA science fiction, from the perspective of an academic SF scholar wondering why children's/YA SF doesn't lead its readers to adult SF. Most of Mendlesohn's critiques on attitudes surrounding children's/YA literature are fairly well-grounded, particularly those relating to the primacy of "theme"/subject matter and the complicated matter of gender portrayals in the literature.
I do question several of her points, though: she praises Heinlein's "career novels" early on, and describes them as effectively socializing the reader into the working world. Given that part of her point is to encourage younger readers to move to adult SF and adopt a more science-positive worldview, she appears to mostly want to change the form of socialization in children's/YA SF, rather than challenge the need for it entirely; further, the sorts of socialization she pushes for may ultimately be more conservative in nature than the ones she resists. She also insists on the benefits of didacticism in literature, although I suspect she refers more to "explaining how science works" and teaching a love of learning than in saying "this is Proper Morality, follow it or suffer".
She also partakes of the old "science fiction is about the external world, mainstream fiction is about the internal world" dichotomy, and while she is correct in that children's/YA SF is lacking in focus on the external world, part of the reason it is currently succeeding--and adult SF, by contrast, floundering--is because of that internal focus. Ultimately, if the problems of children's, YA, and adult SF are to be resolved, there needs to be a better balance within individual works of the external and internal focus; perhaps because of her focus (and her stated irritation at the reams of deplorable titles she had to read for research for this book), Mendlesohn misses that part of the blame lies in the worldview from which adult SF is constructed.
The book is a bit dated, despite its 2010 publication date; there's no discussion of The Hunger Games and the hordes of pseudo-dystopian novels spawned in its wake (a quote late in the book from one of her students that children want "more of the same until introduced to something different in which case they want more of that" comes to mind here), and I would very much like to see her tackle Patrick Ness's Chaos Walking series....more