AUTHOR: Erin Bowman
AGE RANGE: YA
PUBLISHER: Clarion Books
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.
Considering how much I’ve loved most of the other Erin Bowman books I’ve read and how incredible the premise of this book is, I had very high hopes that Dustborn would be a new favorite; unfortunately, though, it fell short for me in a lot of ways. Despite a lot happening in the first half of the book, it dragged by, and the second half, while being substantially more action-packed, was still hard to connect with.
Delta’s a protagonist who should have worked well for me in theory (she’s grouchy, pragmatic, and yet her maternal urges are overwhelming – all of these are typically ingredients for a main character I can root for), but somehow, I never was able to emotionally invest in her, and I think part of that may be due to this being a stand-alone.
While I love an SFF stand-alone as much as the next person does on occasion, this is a story that I personally feel would have lived up to its potential so much more if it’d been further embellished upon and split into a duology. I would’ve had a chance to grow to genuinely love these characters, and so the stakes would have felt higher, but as it was, none of the risky moments of action ever struck a chord because I simply didn’t care what happened to anyone (other than Bay and Rune – and frankly, I could knock off an entire star just for how furious I was over that scene with Rune).
The romance was lackluster, the twist was very interesting (and surprising) but ultimately not enough to save the story leading up to that point, and the ending felt anti-climactic and strange. Again, I sound like a broken record here but I truly believe that splitting this book into two installments would have gone a long way to allow it to live up to the tremendous amount of potential the synopsis held.
I’m excited to read more from Erin Bowman because I know what she’s capable of, but Dustborn was disappointing and unmemorable, and I strongly recommend that people who are new to Erin’s work start with Contagion or Vengeance Road instead.
Thank you to the publisher for the review copy! All thoughts are honest and my own.
sibling loss, parent loss, grief, imprisonment, violence, murder, enslavement, drugging without consent, implied threats of sexual assault, threats of child violence and murder, gore, war, animal death, death during childbirth
BIPOC side characters; queer side characters; multiple side characters have disabilities (including missing eyes and prosthetic limbs); the main character and love interest are heavily scarred
— destiny ♥