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Rebel Heart (Dust Lands, #2) - Moira Young A friend and I were recently discussing what we call the Plot Slap: when it feels exactly like a book leaps out of your hands, smacks you in the face, and crows ’Bet you didn’t see that coming, did you?’That’s what reading Rebel Heart felt like. Repeatedly. In general, I’m a fan of novels with plots that evolve in surprising, unpredictable ways. But rather than just throwing up a couple of twists, Rebel Heart feels like a sudden, sharp turn from Blood Red Road, bolting away in a completely unexpected direction. Sure, Blood Red Road had a slightly absurd plot and a story that stretched a little thin in places, but there was a lot I loved about that book. Besides the hellwurms, (come on, who doesn’t like giant mutant worms that explode out of the ground?) Moira Young’s characterisation was excellent. And while occasionally a little heavy-handed with the themes, I think the book overall had really interesting things to say about self-sacrifice vs the survival instinct, fate and free will, and the question of whether one person’s life is more valuable than another. I think maybe I unconsciously expected Rebel Heart to be Blood Red Road II. But it isn’t, and that’s a good thing. I mentioned Young’s character development before, and that remains my favourite thing about this series. While maintaining the strong voices of Saba and the supporting cast, she pushes them harder than I expected. No one gets an easy time of it (Ash! Molly! Maev! , especially Saba. This novel reads like her deconstruction, then her gradual re-assembly. It’s a story full of conflict in a physical sense (explosions! Headhunters! Sibling standoffs!), but the most compelling conflict is that which occurs internally, in Saba’s own head. It would be easy to put Saba in a box - (not literally, she’d probably kick you in the face); filed away under Kickass Heroines, Subcategory: Post-Apocalyptic. And there’s no denying she’s one of a crop of recent warrior-woman styled protagonists who’s handy with a bow and doesn’t suffer fools or romantic claptrap. But Young develops Saba further than this, forcing her to deal with the consequences of her actions, to question herself, to realise her flaws and strengths. From the opening chapters, where Saba is likely suffering PTSD after the events of BRR, to the finale of Rebel Heart, her emotional arc is pretty gruelling. And she feels real because of it. She’s not a character that always does the right thing (none of them are, really). But she’s raw and compelling and strong – not just physically –because she is made vulnerable in many ways, and she finds a way to survive. Truthfully, I love this girl. I want to high-five her. I occasionally want to slap her. I want to give her a hug. Basically, I'm invested in her as a character. I want to know what the future holds for her. Characters grow in Rebel Heart, and relationships are tested. Saba and Lugh have to face the fact that they have changed, and so has their dynamic. The scenes between these two are realistic and painful, fraught with tension, resentment and frustration. While occasionally unpleasant to read, I applaud Young for taking their story in the direction it did, because it felt true to the characters and what they had been through. Their inability to return to their former relationship, and their tendency to both occasionally act like complete jerks, made sense given the context of their individual journeys and growth. If there’s an element to this book that I really found hard to come to grips with, it’s the way DeMalo’s character emerged. Although we’re only given small glimpses of him and hints at his possible motivations in Blood Red Road, the idea of him I took into Rebel Heart turned out to be completely off the mark. I’m still not sure how I feel about this. The New Eden aspect of the story was fine – it was the development of DeMalo himself as the Pathfinder that was.. disconcerting. It just felt out of step with the rest of the novel in a way I can’t quite put my finger on.There’s also the fact that every one wants to go to Saba’s Pants Party. (Don’t get me wrong, I can understand the appeal.) But Rebel Heart really ups the fixation and the Angel of Death apparently leaves a trail of lust-ridden in her wake. That said, I think this is a strong second book in a trilogy that remains interesting and fresh in the current overcrowding of dysto-mance and post-apocalyptic YA. Young sidesteps the obvious tropes, or at least puts a unique spin on them, and writes strong characters with agency and engaging conflict. While I was willing to chalk my fondness for Blood Red Road up to the fact that it was fun, I’ve come around to the idea that I also like these books because Young’s character development is brilliant, she has a flair for voice and writes engaging relationships. But mostly, if I'm honest: NERO! ♥