November 24, 2012

Rebel Heart (Dust Lands: 2)

Written by Moira Young
Doubleday Canada
424 pp.
Ages 14+

When I reviewed Moira Young's debut novel, Blood Red Road, last December (Blood Red Road review), I had no idea the accolades and attention it would garner.  It won the U.K.'s 2011 Costa Children's Book Award, the 2012 Sheila A. Egoff Children's Literature Prize, Honour Book for the 2012 White Pine Fiction Award, the Simply the Book Coventry Inspiration Book Award and the Rib Valley Book Award, as well as being shortlisted for the 2012 Independent Booksellers' Week Book Award, the 2012 Amelia Elizabeth Walden Book Award and the 2013 MYRCA.  Seems a dystopian world ruled by a despot and his security force where pockets of civilization attempt to survive amidst anarchy is a popular theme nowadays.

After parting ways with Saba at the end of Blood Red Road, Jack has headed to the Lost Cause, the hooch and whores joint run by Molly Pratt.  Jack finds the Lost Cause a shell of itself, courtesy of the vicious Tontons and their new leader who have been actively involved in land grabs and resettlement.  Meanwhile Saba, travelling with her twin brother Lugh, little sister Emmi and the deaf Tommo, seems to be haunted by the dead, particularly Epona, who would've fallen into the Tontons' hands if not for Saba, and all the girls Saba fought and killed in the cage at Hopetown.  Though he openly criticizes Saba and Jack, not wanting to be grateful to them for saving his life, Lugh vacillates between fear of Saba and contempt for her every action, emotion, decision.  And then when Maev, a former ally, tells them that Jack has joined the Tonton, Lugh is convinced that he's been right about Jack all along.  But Saba still believes otherwise, assured that Jack had encrypted a message in his words to Maev for Saba to meet up with him at the Lost Cause. 

After setting off on her own to find Jack, Saba realizes how stifling it has been with Lugh.
He smothers me.  Chokes me.  Pens me in.  Tethers me to him with his worry an sorrow an anger an fear. (pg. 166)
Unfortunately, Lugh, Maev, Emmi and Tommo follow, creating more hardship and opportunities for misunderstanding and criticism.  Entering into New Eden, Tonton territory, in which the new leader, the Pathfinder, has his lair Resurrection, the group meets up with Slim, Travellatin Physician an Surgeon in his Cosmic Compendalorium, a cart pulled by his camel, Moses. Though their intention had been to hijack Slim for his animal and cart, Saba and the others soon realize that Slim has more to offer them, including guidance in navigating discretely through New Eden and ultimately the protection and assistance of those in the Resistance to the new order.  

Just as Auriel, the shaman from the small community on the Snake River, had divined, Lugh dreams of settling land and raising a family whereas Saba wants to be free to soar, destined to have the "courage to act in the service of somethin greater" (pg. 110). With both Saba and Lugh dealing with their own versions of post-traumatic stress disorder, embedded in anger and self-recrimination, their bond is unravelling.  And Moira Young seems loathe to let Saba or Lugh see things straight.  Everything they do is painted with the pain of their experiences and inability to express themselves or ask for help.  Although I became frustrated with Lugh's self-righteousness and Saba's constant second-guessing, I know it was because I was looking for a glimmer of happiness in a wasteland of humanity.  I so wanted Saba to reunite with her brother and accept his appreciation for all she'd endured to save him.  I wanted Saba to reunite with Jack and re-establish their relationship on a foundation of respect and love, not desperation and chance.

Fortunately, Moira Young did not disappoint, even if she didn't take the path of least resistance.  Rebel Heart has storylines converging and diverging, leaving the reader anticipating the best or the worst at different times but never able to guess appropriately.  Over three hundred pages in and I was convinced it was all over.  Within fifty pages of the end, I thought I couldn't bear to go on.  Only thirty pages left and I despaired for the ending I was sure was coming.  My heart lurched with every obstacle and unkindness and poor choice and bad luck, still looking for that resolution that would ease my recurring anguish.  If I thought the grammar and spelling in Blood Red Road was a hardship, I was mistaken.  The torment of Rebel Heart is far more disconcerting.  Even the relief of a long-awaited moment, tender and promising, is fleeting with the realization that a threat is simmering.  How perfectly apropos.

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