Dustborn by Erin Bowman (Spoiler-Free Review with Terminal Tours)

Book Review

Title: Dustborn by Erin Bowman

Genre: Science Fiction, Dystopia

Synopsis: 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.

Rating: ***

Review: I haven’t read much by this author before but science fiction mixed with dystopia and a touch of a western caught my attention and I managed to get an ARC for this blog tour. I have seen this particular mix of genres before and I am eager to find out whether it is something I enjoy. We are introduced to Delta of Dead River, her sister and their mother who live on the banks of the Dead River with the rest of their pack. It seems that this is a post-apocalyptic world where there seems to be a worldwide drought and the packs are the remaining pockets of humans trying to survive in this new world. Delta is under the impression that the pack should have moved in the winter but they can’t move now because of the heat and the numerous dust storms that happen in the summer months but more than this people are against moving with young children and Delta’s own sister is pregnant. We learn that these people read the stars in order to make decisions and there is something called the Verdant. The Verdant is a map that has been handed down through their pack for generations and when the physical map began to disintegrate they branded it onto a pair of children and the most recent pair were Delta and Asher. However, no one can read the map but that doesn’t mean there aren’t people looking for it as their previous home on Alkali lake was raided after the pack split in two, Asher stayed behind while Delta left and everyone on Alkali lake was killed by the raiders including Asher.

As we approach the ¼ mark in the novel, Delta’s sister goes into labour early and something is wrong. They decide that she needs to go to Zuly in another compound for healing and help with the birth and Delta offers to take her sister despite her feelings on her sister’s pregnancy. Delta’s carries her sister through the night to reach Zuly and gives the necessary payment but when she is woken the next morning, Delta learns that her sister died in childbirth but the baby survived. Delta makes the journey home with the child who she only calls Baby to learn her home has been raided and almost everyone is gone. Delta decides to find them and is making good progress when she finds an outpost and someone is there asking for help. It turns out that the boy she saw there is Asher and that he didn’t die but they are being taken to the Barrell to be sold but they find the brand and she is being taken to the General. The General shows Delta that her family is ok but she realises they are being drugged with the water and continues to follow Asher’s advice of not drinking anything they give her.

As we cross the ¼ mark in the novel, Delta’s three days are up and she is no closer to solving the riddle of the map even with the help of the Oracle whose father helped Asher escape the compound. When Delta tries to stall for time telling the General the map is encoded with language that aren’t from the Old World and she needs time to find them out he kills her mother and tells her that every three days he will kill another member of her pack ending with Bay before he sends her to work in the fields taking her mother’s place. Eventually Delta learns the only way out is with the dead and sneaks out on the wagon carrying her mother’s body where they are going to be burnt. Luckily for her one of the guards leaves to visit his girlfriend giving Delta the chance to overpower the guard and escape. She ends up fleeing, leaving behind everyone she loves including Bay to meet with Asher at the tavern he suggested so that she can unravel the mystery of the map in time to save her pack.

As we approach the halfway mark in the novel, I was getting interested in the story but it seems to be really slow paced and not a lot has actually happened so I am hoping for something exciting soon especially since this is a standalone novel. Delta manages to meet up with Asher in the tavern like planned but the General has obviously learnt of her escape and is shutting down the Barrell so they don’t have much time to escape. Once they are back in the wastes he tells her their plan should be to go to Powder Town where they might be able to learn the secrets of the map but in order to stay ahead of the General they are going to have to take a more direct and dangerous route. Once inside Powder Town they guards are able to turn back the General’s army because of their trade agreement for the black powder for weapons which is made in Powder Town but in order to be allowed to stay they have to plead their case to the Prime and it might be hard for Asher as he has already fled Powder Town once before breaking his agreement with them. They get settled in Powder Town where Delta learns that Asher was paired up with a woman for reproduction and she was getting sweet on him despite his obvious chilliness towards the whole situation but it sets Delta on edge for some reason.

As we cross into the second half of the novel, things are slowly starting to get more interesting but the main point of the novel is Delta and Asher figuring out what the map means and there has been little progress in that area, so I was getting a little bored. Delta figures out through talking to the Prime that Zuly might be able to read the map and tells Asher that she wants to leave Powder Town and head there immediately since she has learnt from Clay, her sister’s partner that the General has delayed killing her pack in order to lure her back. Now in the wastes with little supplies and what could be an inaccurate map to the Verdant, they have no choice but to press on despite how little Asher wants to be with Delta right now. They eventually come across a settlement that belongs to Harlie, thinking it is abandoned but it isn’t and Delta offers to help her with building her wind wagon, a device to cross the wastes in return for its use to go north together. Delta very quickly solves Harlie’s problem of stopping the wind wagon and they plans to create a brake for it the next day which means very soon, the trio will be heading out into the wastes on a ride or die journey that they might not come back from. I had some issues with how easily Delta solved the riddle of the map as it was too simple and it seems like anyone could have figured it out if they had seen both maps which the General has as Asher was trapped in Bedrock for a while, the same as Delta so it seems like he will figure it out very soon or the Oracle will.

As we approach the ¾ mark in the novel, they begin building the wind wagon only to see Reed coming upon their location so Asher hits his falcon, Rune out of the sky breaking her wing. Reed rushes to defend Rune claiming to be there to help Delta despite not knowing what she is doing and having the means to communicate with the General. After making sure the wind wagon works they head out in the wastes hoping to come across the Verdant and they do find the place called Eden which is marked on both Delta and Asher’s maps. However, Eden isn’t what anyone of them thought it would be and this is most heart-breaking for Delta. After getting drunk she realises that something about the storms stop the mag-rifles from working but they function fine in normal weather. She comes up with the plan to trade the mag-rifles for her pack before heading back to Powder Town to tell them of the General’s increased strength but she will also give them the design for the wind wagon allowing them to cross the wastes quickly to carry out the plan the Prime has for bringing down the General once and for all.

As we cross into the final section of the novel, the group return and begin carrying out their plans after convincing the Prime to go through with it as they appear to have lots of time. They also send Reed back to Bedrock as a spy and to blow up the General’s powder supply when the time comes. Weeks pass and the solar storm grows closer but they are called into action when Reed blows the powder early for some reason and they have no choice but to attack. Relatively speaking this epic battle is over very quickly and with very little consequences which meant for me as a reader it didn’t really have an impact and while the aftermath and the conclusion of the novel was interesting to see it left me really underwhelmed. For me personally, Dustborn has a lot of potential that it didn’t live up to and with the slow first half and the choppy second half it isn’t something I am likely to return to. It was interesting to read in the moment and it created a dystopian world that hasn’t been seen in a long time as dystopian novels went out of fashion for a while but overall it was a bit of a disappointment.

Buy Links: Amazon UK, Amazon


About the Author

Erin Bowman is the critically acclaimed author of numerous books for children and teens, including the Taken Trilogy, Vengeance Road, Retribution Rails, the Edgar Award-nominated Contagion duology, The Girl and the Witch’s Garden, and the forthcoming Dustborn. A web designer turned author, Erin has always been invested in telling stories—both visually and with words. Erin lives in New Hampshire with her husband and children.

You can visit her online at embowman.com, on twitter @erin_bowman, or on instagram @heyerin.

I received this review copy from Terminal Tours.

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