Dustborn by Erin Bowman
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.
DISCLAIMER: I received an eARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
In the wastelands, survival is far from guaranteed.
Delta of Dead River has scraped out a life for herself alongside her pack, surviving dust storms, sweltering heat, and more. It’s not comfortable living, but she’s alive, and more than that, she still protects the map to the Verdant. It lies branded on her back, a secret poised to change the world as she knows it, if only she can decode its mysteries.
And soon, she must. When the General attacks her village and claims her pack as hostages, Delta must find a way to give him the information he wants about the Verdant. Failure means the death of her pack, all the way down to her newborn niece. Caught between her inability to read the map and her desperation to save everyone she has ever loved, Delta must brave everything the wastelands have to offer, if only to have a sliver of hope for survival.
For the future.
In Dustborn, atmosphere is everything.
I’m more than just impressed by the way Erin Bowman crafts Delta’s world. In fact, I’m truly in awe. Every ounce of this book explodes with dust and scorching sun, evoking the wastelands with incredible vibrancy. For a world that constantly skirts around the brink of death, every description gives it startling life. Maybe there are long stretches of hard, baked earth, but there are also towns dotting the dry landscape, thin rivers trickling their way through the world. There are towering, claustrophobic canyons, and even in one location, a soaring waterfall majestic as it is lonely.
All in all, the atmospheric descriptions lend the landscape power. This world is as much a character as Delta, or Asher, or the General. The only difference is that its whims are unknowable, and its power unmovable. It grows, though. It grows and shifts, and at the end of the day, there is no ignoring how central it is to this book.
The characters, though, are as impressive as the atmosphere.
Truth be told, I’m in love with Delta of Dead River. How could I not be? She starts out cynical and hardened against this world’s cruelties, and devastating loss only makes her guard her heart more fiercely.
But Delta also commits to giving anything to see her pack out of the General’s clutches and into the safe, long-imagined embrace of the Verdant. Though it may sometimes go against her survival instincts, she learns when to trust, when to take risks. And more than that, she learns what kind of power she has, even as one lone girl in the wastelands. Dustborn is the book it is purely because of her steadfast determination, tempered by her realistic grief and fears and frustrations.
And I have to admit that I like Asher quite a bit, too. Though he seems deeply unlikeable at his proper introduction, the more we see of his open, hopeful heart, the easier it is to enjoy his presence on the pages. Sometimes, he even drives home how young some of these characters are. There are plenty of adult supporting characters in the book, but Asher in particular serves as a reminder that teens and young adults are poised to bear the burden of the wastelands. The power to direct the future is in their hands, no matter what power the General lays claim to.
Overall, Dustborn is a hit, and if you like dystopian YA or Mad Max: Fury Road, this one is going to belong on your shelf!
Really, I have to recommend it. Difficult to put down and triumphant in its resolution, it soars past a somewhat slow beginning to stick the landing with explosive force. I absolutely believe Fury Road fans will enjoy Dustborn, but I also think it will strike a chord with readers interested in stories of resilience in the face of monumental odds.
And luckily, you don’t have to wait to read it! Dustborn is available on shelves already, just waiting for you to pick it up! Or, of course, request it from a library, if that’s more your speed. Either way, I encourage you to give it a try, and see what kind of wonder you can discover despite the fury of the wastes.
CW: animal death, gore, violence (including gun violence), graphic injury, child death, human trafficking, slavery, drug use, implied torture, implied child abuse, loss of a loved one