Blood Red Road: Dust Lands, Book 1

Book review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
Blood Red Road: Dust Lands, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Warrior girl stars in action-packed debut for mature teens.

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Kids say

age 14+
Based on 2 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Explores a future society where lawlessness has taken over, which readers can compare to many other books and movies with a similar premise. It's also a quest filled with trials, monsters, allies, and enemies, another very popular literary idea dating back to Homer's Odyssey. This book breaks all kinds of grammar and spelling rules -- reading and schooling are no longer available to people like Saba. So readers will have to do things like fill in their own quote marks as they go and decide for themselves whether this gives a stronger sense of Saba's character.

Positive Messages

"Never give up" is repeated often, as the main character searches for her brother. Trusting in friends and knowing when to accept their help are also big themes.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Saba doesn't start out terribly likeable -- she's mean to her younger sister and really stubborn about doing things her way. But ultimately, she helps her sister and learns to accept help from others and open up to them, even apologizing when she's in the wrong. She makes a big transformation, using her stubbornness, bravery, and resourcefulness to stay alive, though she must kill others to do so.


Saba watches her father and neighbor get killed and sees her brother kidnapped at the very beginning of the book. It's also mentioned that her mother died in childbirth years ago. Other characters are killed by being shot with arrows and falling, and some are seen after a hanging. Cage fighting is brutal but not described in full detail -- characters die by "running the gauntlet," where they're taken apart by drug-addled spectators. A 9-year-old girl is enslaved and hit, and a wife beats her husband. A city is set on fire. Giant worms with claws attack and almost kill, as does a raging river where piles of human bones float.


A few kisses and some flirting and innuendo. A man sees two women naked. A mention that another man was left without his clothes in the company of women. 


"Damn" and versions of "gawddamn" are frequent. Also, "helluva," "bastard," "sonofabitch," and "hellhole."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Many in the lawless Dustland are addicted to a drug called chaal or grow it as slaves. Cage fighting spectators get so hopped up on it that they tear up the losing contestants. A prison guard takes chaal and routinely beats the women prisoners. A bartender homebrews vodka and serves it to Saba and friends.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this post-apocalyptic fantasy starts off with the murder of the main character's father and the kidnapping of her twin brother. Saba is then kidnapped and forced to cage fight, causing the death of many opponents (though the fights aren't described in detail). There are additional deaths with arrows, near-misses in a raging river, and a scary nighttime ambush by giant worm creatures. It seems that everyone except the main characters and their enemies is addicted to a drug called chaal or grows it as a slave. Stubborn Saba is hard to like at first, but she's brave and resourceful, and after a while she learns to accept the help of friends.

User Reviews

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Teen, 15 years old Written bybiovox14 December 19, 2016

Pretty decent read, small amount of questionable content.

Yea so theres not really any sexual content in this book, just violence:) a good read and advisable for older teens
Kid, 11 years old May 22, 2012

Nonstop Adventure

Blood Red Road is (finally!) a dystopian book that isn't a repeat of the Hunger Games or your typical totalitarian government. This story follows the class... Continue reading

What's the story?

After Saba watches her father killed and her twin dragged off by mysterious robed men, she vows to save her brother at all costs -- and all on her own. But her 9-year-old sister, Emmi, won't be left behind. The little girl becomes bait after kidnappers drug Saba, drag her into the desert, and force her to cage fight: If she escapes, they'll kill her sister. Of course, if she loses three times, she'll die anyway. In the cage-fighters' prison, Saba learns more about the mysterious robed men and the disturbing reason they want her brother. If she's going to save him, she needs to get to the hidden Freedom Fields before midsummer. Enter a group of women robbers called the Free Hawks and a cocky male cage fighter named Jack. Saba needs them all, whether she likes it or not.

Is it any good?

Saba, like the book's intentionally messy grammar, takes some warming up to. She's mean to her sister, doesn't seem upset enough over her father's death, and is determined not to accept help from anyone. Oddly enough, it's her cage fighting that starts to make her real and likeable. Suddenly she's cunning, confident, and just plain awesome. As she hatches a daring escape plan, the book hits its stride. The action scenes are great all around; they keep readers on the edge of their seats without gratuitous gore. Saba's love interest has just enough secrets and swagger to keep things interesting, and the minor characters who join the quest all bring out more good in Saba.

There's still a bit that's unexplored here, including the what and why of Dustland. Even so, this is a great effort for a first-time author, and readers will be eager to see the next two installments.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the popularity of books about a dismal future for the human race. Why do you think they appeal so much to teen readers? What does this book have in common with other dystopian novels?

  • While there isn't gratuitous gore, there's a lot of violence in this book. Does the fantasy setting make it any easier to handle? Is it different to read about violent acts than it is to see them in a movie or video game?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love fantasy and adventure

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