"Dustborn" by Erin Bowman: A Book For Everyone Who Enjoys A Bleak But Cautiously Hopeful Post-Apocalyptic Atmosphere

§ I received an ARC of this book via NetGalley to review but I was not financially compensated in any way. The opinions expressed are my own and are based on my observations while reading this novel. §

Delta of Dead River lives in a barren world and every day life become harder. Water is getting less by each day and there is no solution in sight. She also carries a secret: a map was engraved on her back - a map that should lead to a place filled with endless greens and water. Unfortunately, nobody is left who knows how to read such a map ... 

After a journey through the wastes, Delta finds her whole pack missing and in an effort to find them, she is captured and turned over to The General. He takes a special interest in the map on her back and demands her to read it for him. If she does not comply, he is going to kill her pack - every third day, another member is going to suffer the consequences. However, Delta cannot give him something she does not have.  

What makes "Dustborn" fantastic, is the world it plays in. I fell in love with in from the first page on. There are mentions of old world relicts and languages that have gotten lost. So you know that it must be related to "our" world. At the same time, nobody can read those words anymore, the knowledge got lost. Nobody even knows how the world became a desert wasteland. 

I enjoyed this, I loved it even! It seemed realistic, after hundreds of years of fighting for survival, this seemingly unimportant knowledge would be no more. So while reading, you are not even sure how it came to be such a way. Was it a nuclear apocalypse? Or was it always this way? Who can tell ...

In fact, "Dustborn" is written in such a immersive way, that Bowman uses words specific to this world. The wastes are never a desert, having sex is never sex instead it is to roll with someone, there is old world tech, and when encountering such things there is never a name to it. However, the reader knows that this strange vehicle that doesn't seem to have an attachment for the horses is a car. 

It is also easy to follow this new world, and even to understand the harshness of it. This is not a chummy place. Everyone has their own, mostly selfish, motives. However, there is room left for kindness. Old friends reunite, and some people show mercy and empathy. Some do not. 

"Dustborn" raises a few issues in that regard: Is not everyone simply trying to survive? Does the General think it justifies his choices? Then Delta wonders who gave her to right to use the same violence against him. As well as are you allowed to take people's faith away? Is it the correct choice to keep the truth from them because they might not like it? 

These questions do not find their answers because the Wastes are morally grey. And if the reader wants to ponder on those is left up to them. So is the story's ending. It ends on a happier and hopeful note but one that is fits the tone of the book. This is not a fairy-tale happy ending, where everyone leaves the battles unharmed. 

Even though, it may sound like a contradiction, I enjoyed those aspects. I am a sucker for stories with such endings. In "Dustborn" it just seems right. People are going to carry scars from fighting such battles and so do these characters. Yet, they still smile and continue to live. 

However, there is only one nitpick I have with "Dustborn". The story is told from Delta's point of view and yet, there are hardly any emotional reactions. Yes, she screams and shouts, and you can tell that sometimes she a little too stubborn and hot headed for her own good, (and we love her for it). 

Yet, when she sees something absolutely tragic happen - which I won't go into detail for due to spoiler alert - there is hardly an emotional reaction at all. She just watches, and then ... it happens and then it is a next day. 

There is only one time when we see her truly struggle and break down, and it does not last that long either. Personally, I wish that there would have been more inner turmoils and conflicts on her parts. 

Otherwise, the book is well paced and I enjoyed reading it. I liked the world it painted alongside the conflicts. Delta is an enjoyable heroine to follow and I would recommend this novel to everyone who enjoys a bleak but cautiously hopeful post-apocalyptic atmosphere

Dustborn by Erin Bowman
Published2021by HMH Books for Young Readers
Add to your shelf on ... The StoryGraphGoodReads
Content warnings:mentions of drug abuse

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