Rebel Heart: Dust Lands, Book 2

Book review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
Rebel Heart: Dust Lands, Book 2 Book Poster Image
Mature warrior-girl sequel stays exciting.

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A lot or a little?

Parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational value

Explores a future society where lawlessness has taken over, which readers can compare with many other books and movies with a similar premise. It's also a quest filled with trials, 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

"Don't give in to fear" is the mantra that echoes in Saba's head as she faces her personal demons. Also, finding the courage to stand up and fight; Saba has a choice between running to a comfortable life or running toward danger to help those who are oppressed.

Positive role models & representations

Saba was harder to like in Blood Red Road. Here she's starting to become a warrior and to listen and trust her own instincts; she's full of doubt, especially with her brother, Lugh, often siding against her, but that will just make readers root for her more. Lugh tries to be the leader and protector but just ends up getting in the way of what Saba needs to do. Their younger sister Emmi's only 10 but extremely brave and intelligent.

Violence

Plenty of death, ghosts, and images of death in this barren and somewhat lawless land. Most of the more violent actions -- a whole camp getting shot in the head, a woman raped and then branded -- are barely described after the fact. Three more visceral descriptions involve a head in a caldron with half its features missing, a man nailed to a tree with a spike in his throat, and skin rubbed raw and bloody in a delusional fit. Characters are chased by wolves and headhunters with blow darts and attacked by snakes and soldiers with guns and explosives. Mostly enemies die, but there are a couple of sad deaths and a gunshot wound. Saba uses a bow and arrow to kill her enemies. One woman clings to her dead baby, with talk that others are taken from women to be trained, the weak ones left to die. Much talk of when Saba and Lugh lost their mother (in childbirth) and father (shot by the enemy). Saba is haunted by the dead and visits a Shaman to help her stop seeing ghosts.

Sex

Three different couples (18 and up) have sex, one woman is a prostitute, but only one encounter is described at all, skipping from kissing to waking up naked. Plenty of sexual innuendo, some not so subtle by a prostitute offering her services to Lugh for free.

Language

Some rough language fits the rough grammar of the book. There's lots of "damn," "gawdamn," and "hell," with handfuls of "sonofabitch" and "bastard." Nothing beyond that.

Consumerism
Drinking, drugs & smoking

Molly's bar serves some strong homemade whiskey that gets pulled out and drunk by characters a few times. Emmi (10 years old) takes a drink one time. Saba drinks a few glasses of wine before sleeping with someone. A prostitute smokes a cigar. Lugh takes a made-up drug called chaal.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Rebel Heart is the second book in the Dust Lands series marketed to mature teens. In this sequel, the violence remains at about the same level: pervasive but usually not described in detail. The worst it gets is imagery of a head boiling, a man nailed to a tree with a spike in his throat, and skin rubbed bloody in a delusional fit. Characters, mostly enemies, die in gunfights and with arrows through the heart. The addictive drug chaal was very prominent in Blood Red Road but isn't here; expect mostly drinking. More prominent is the sexual content. Three couples have sex, but nothing is described in any detail. The main character, Saba, is becoming a true warrior in this book, but needs help from a shaman to put her on the right path and stop seeing the ghosts that haunt her.

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What's the story?

Just as Saba gets her twin brother, Lugh, back from Tonton kidnappers, her beloved Jack departs. He must tell the wife of one of those killed by the Tonton the bad news himself and promises to meet them in the good settling lands by the ocean. First they must pass through harsh desert and enemy territory. Tonton, under a tyrannical new leader named DeMalo, have started what they call New Eden and are purging the land of anyone not young, strong, and breeding. Saba, Lugh, their little sister Emmi, and their friend Tommo see the weak and frail trying to escape certain death across the desert. They feel just as desperate, especially when Saba starts seeing ghosts and having delusions; her violent past and those she has killed are haunting her. They arrive at a river encampment just in time to get help from their shaman. And to get news of Jack, who's in trouble. Of course Saba will go back for him, but how will she explain her decision to Lugh?

Is it any good?

The title -- REBEL HEART, swoon -- and the beefcake cover may attract young adult readers, but they won't get exactly what they expect. They get better. Saba's not your average fantasy heroine. She doesn't wax poetic or whine over lost loves. Readers figured that out in Blood Red Road when she talked tough and cage-fought her way to victory. Now she's racing through the desert fighting ghosts, headhunters, and armed Tonton fanatics. Her brother, Lugh, is a thorn in her side (readers may wish he gets lost along the way even though it took a whole book to find him). But other characters make up for him, especially brave and wise little sister Emmi.

The word "destiny" gets tossed around a lot, but there are still only a few hints of what that means for Saba in book 3. That's okay, because the furious ride to the middle of the journey -- usually the low point in any trilogy -- keeps readers thoroughly engaged, and always guessing about that beefcake on the Rebel Heart's cover. Is Jack really Saba's heart's desire? Or is he the enemy now?

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the grammar, spelling, and punctuation in Rebel Heart. No one's educated in this post-apocalyptic world, and the author uses language to reflect this. Do you think it works within the story or gets in the way? What other books alter language to fit the narrator's world?

  • A shaman and Saba's father speak of destiny and what's written in the stars. Do you think Saba is heading toward her destiny? Is everything all planned out for us? Why does this worry Saba?

  • Whom would you rather travel with -- Saba, who's heading to fight against the enemy, or Lugh, who wants to settle down someplace safe? What if you suspected that Lugh's safe haven would not remain that way forever?

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