Review: “Dustlands” by Erin Bowman

Disclaimer: I didn’t sit my butt in a kitchen chair for all of this 400+ page book.

Well this book was certainly a little how-do-you-do of vengeful post-apocalyptic YA Novels. I was promised Mad Max and I was fed exactly that and more. This is a book that is most certainly going to sweep across the young adult world and take them by storm. 

Dustborn follows Delta of Dead River; dead being the operating term because everything in this vast landscape has blown away into dust. Delta has just returned from journeying in an attempt to save her sister and sister’s newborn baby’s life. When she returns to her home, she’s found that most of her “pack” has been taken hostage by the fascist leader of the land. Armed with her wits, the help of a long-lost friend, and the mysterious brands on her back that may act as a map to greener pastures, Delta embarks on a mission across the wastelands to save everyone she loves. 

This world is vivid in its description of ruin. From the sand storms that pop up when you least expect them to the crusted salt beds that offer no hope of clean water, the world that Erin Bowman paints is hopeless, helpless, and eerie. I could almost taste the sand in my mouth as Delta ventured through storms, rubbing grit from her eyes as if it were normal. And in this landscape it is. There is no thriving here, just survival. 

The world is not only built through descriptions of the barrens however; it’s built through small mentions, like dug out cellars that hide you from the worst of the kicked-up rocks, and a refusal to shy away from the nitty gritty of desperate survival attempts. Oftentimes, it feels like YA novels attempt to shield their readers from the realities of starvation and dehydration, but not this one. Delta has grown up doing what she must to survive and that is something that remains prevalent throughout the book. There is no coddling here.

The characters presented in the novel were for the most part, interesting and mature, though I do sorely wish the author would have delved a little bit deeper into the psyches and motivations of some of our supporting characters. It did occasionally ride the line between archetypal villains and heroes and I wish it could have erred on the positive side 100% of the time. 

Delta, as mentioned above, was a take no prisoners protagonist that you love to see. She is cold, but spirited and truly does everything she can for those she loves; even when it seems prudent to let things go. 

There was certainly no shorting of action in any of the four parts in which the book was split up. Wind-wagons, falcons, hybrid “Old World” guns and new, this book had a wide variety of tools to pull you in.

My only real fault of the book is its length. This is a long book and while it never truly falls into the category of “lagging,” I’m almost certain that certain parts could have been shortened without any real pitfalls. 

But overall, Dustborn everything it was promised to be: wacky, brutal, and an adventure across a dusty, and yet somehow beautiful, world. 


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