As a fan of both Vengeance Road and Contagion by Erin Bowman, I was excited to see her marry these two western and sci-fi genres. Dustborn sounded super exciting and fun, and I had high expectations for this book.
Author: Erin Bowman
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Release Date: April 20, 2021
Genres: YA Science Fiction
I received an ARC from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
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.
One of the strong points of this novel is the setting. Erin Bowman never disappoints on her settings, I’ve noticed. Dustborn’s sci-fi western is gritty and dusty and had me feeling so dehydrated the entire time I was reading this book. Every scrubby bush, every volcanic landscape, every mountain range… it was so vivid in my mind. This is mostly a journey book, so the fact that each setting was so unique was wonderful, though the world felt cohesive and familiar in some ways.
I really liked Delta, especially in the beginning. She’s fierce and will do anything to protect her family, no matter the cost. She shows this in the beginning, when she drags her pregnant sister across the desert so she can be healed after her pregnancy goes wrong. This is continually showed, though as the story goes on, I came to realize that her willingness to protect her family was sometimes her only character trait–it took over her completely, even to the detriment of others. I love a flawed character, and I did love Delta in the beginning, but I think her stubbornness rubbed me the wrong way at times, especially when she wasn’t willing to listen to others (and when she harms an animal with no reason). And when she finally was able to her, the change felt a little too abrupt, not gradual enough for my tastes. I did like her character arc, though, especially as she learned to trust other characters. There are a lot of characters in this story, which made for little time to flesh out any except Delta (with a little time spent on Asher and Reed). Reed was definitely my favorite side character. He surprised me in many ways, and I liked where the story took him. Bay, Delta’s niece, is adorable, and I wish she could have been in the story more. Her general babyness next to Delta’s grit and hardness was a wonderful juxtaposition.
The plot was exciting and interesting, with a lot of unique twists, a couple of which I didn’t see coming at all. At the 50% mark, I felt there was one thing that took me out of the story because it was too convenient, but other than that, it’s a fast-paced dystopian-style sci-fi that was exciting right up to the end.
Compared to Vengeance Road and Contagion, Dustborn falls a little bit short, but I do still think it’s a strong book that is perfect for fans of dystopian with lots of action. And if you haven’t read any of Erin Bowman’s books, this is a great place to start, since this is a standalone. Erin’s writing and plotting is still top-notch, and I continue to look forward to what she writes next.