Delta of Dead River sets out to rescue her family from a ruthless dictator rising to power in the Wastes and discovers a secret that will reshape her world in this postapocalyptic Western mashup for fans of Mad Max and Gunslinger Girl.
Delta of Dead River has always been told to hide her back, where a map is branded on her skin to a rumored paradise called the Verdant. In a wasteland plagued by dust squalls, geomagnetic storms, and solar flares, many would kill for it—even if no one can read it. So when raiders sent by a man known as the General attack her village, Delta suspects he is searching for her.
Delta sets out to rescue her family but quickly learns that in the Wastes no one can be trusted—perhaps not even her childhood friend, Asher, who has been missing for nearly a decade. If Delta can trust Asher, she just might decode the map and trade evidence of the Verdant to the General for her family. What Delta doesn’t count on is what waits at the Verdant: a long-forgotten secret that will shake the foundation of her entire world.
Title: Dustborn | Author: Erin Bowman | Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers | Pub Date: 20/04/2021 | Pages: 432| ISBN13: 9780358244431| Genre: Sci-Fi | Language: English | Source: NetGalley | Starred Review
Dustborn is the story of Delta, a young woman who lives at Dead River with a small pack of people trying to survive. Dust has overtaken the land, water is scarce, and there are dangers at every turn. Many people, including Delta’s mother, believe that their gods have abandoned them but that if they’re faithful, their gods will return.
It’s been a long time since Delta’s had much faith in the gods.
Delta’s life has been checkered with tragedy. After her pack split in two, she was separated from the person she was closest to as a child. Her pack later learned that the people who’d remained, including her cherished childhood friend, had been slaughtered. Delta carries a lot of guilt and grief with her, and this is compounded at the start of Dustborn when she’s instructed to take her pregnant sister to a healer. Something’s wrong, and her pack’s midwife can’t deliver the child safely. Delta has to use a cart to pull her sister across the sand dunes to try to save her sister’s life.
Things take a tragic turn, and when Delta returns home with just the baby, she discovers most of her pack is missing. Some have been slaughtered. Once is barely alive and able to tell her what happened.
Delta sets out with her unnamed niece to try to find her pack and is soon captured. Her captors plan to sell her to a buyer.
That’s the set-up for this novel, and it’s important to understand Delta’s origin story because this is a coming-of-age survival story that has a lot of surprises in store. It’s almost tragic for people to know the genre before reading, because this reads very much like a dystopian fantasy or post-apocalyptic story of survival. The revelations about where Delta and all the people are and their origins are major turning points later in the story.
Ultimately, Delta struggles with trust and must learn to trust others and choose a path for the future. She also has to learn that sometimes, the best way to help others isn’t always what you think. Ultimately, she also has to grapple with the truths she learns and what they mean for the people struggling to survive.
Dustborn really knocks it out of the park because the author subverted a lot of common tropes. This makes the story feel fresh and it kept me on my toes. As much as I expected some developments, things never happened quite the way I projected, and there were a lot of credible surprises. I don’t believe a story needs a twist to be compelling and effective, but the surprises in this novel were earned because the foundation for the twists was incorporated into the story in subtle ways.
Dustborn is a compelling story about coming to terms with the truth and having the courage to take your fate out of the hands of the gods and control your own destiny. It shows the power of the human spirit and how, despite all the evil in the world, it’s possible to learn to trust and have your faith in people validated. Delta’s one of the more memorable characters I’ve spent time with. She’s fleshed out and flawed, but capable of growth, and her organic growth propels the plot forward in a realistic way. 5 out of 5 stars.
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