But then he said it's called chaal an it's poison to the mind an soul, an if anybody ever offers us any we're to say no. (1.88)
Here's our first introduction to chaal, the designer drug of choice here in the post-apocalyptic wasteland of Blood Red Road. It's nasty stuff, as you might imagine. It also happens to be the thing that this entire society is built around. Yeah, as you might have guessed, that's bad news.
Chaal slows you down. Makes you think you're smart when you ain't. Too much of it an you get all hopped up, go wild. (3.151)
Okay, so chaal will make you go slow. Unless you take too much. Then it will make you go fast. And wild. And violent. The holy trinity of nastiness. P.S.A., folks: you don't want to touch this stuff if you know what's good for you.
They live fer this, says the Cage Master. They're worse than animals. That's what too much chaal does to you. (5.120)
Chaal users get compared to animals quite a bit in Blood Red Road, but we think we have a comparison that might be more accurate: they're like zombies. It all fits the bill, right? Plus, we know that there's not much in the way of brains to go around here in Hopetown.
The chaal vendors [...] wanna git everybody hopped up fer the big finish. (6.446)
We see chaal get connected to cage fighting quite often throughout the novel, with the drug taking credit for the crowd's bloodthirsty response to such brutal combat. Are the games an outlet for these violent tendencies, or are they part of the cause?
An one person controls the chaal. He grows it harvests it, an supplies it. (6.124)
That dude is the King, and he has gained all of his power from the chaal trade, which basically makes him a criminal kingpin. No wonder the Tonton are such nasty dudes.
Everythin's to do with chaal, she says. An the Tonton's right in the middle of it. (7.36)
Although Maev doesn't know where the chaal comes from, she knows that it supplies the Tonton with everything they need to retain their dominance. Even worse, it's helping them actually extend their reach.
A big waterwagon 'ud come around twice a day, once in the mornin an once in the afternoon, an fill everybody's waterskins. There's chaal in that water. (8.790)
In case it isn't clear, this passage states that the King drugs slaves with chaal in order to make them more subservient when actually harvesting the chaal. That's a grody piece of business, isn't it? If the King had his way, he'd get the entire planet hooked on the stuff if it bought him another "King From Throughout History" cosplay outfit.
It's a land of plenty. Lush an beautiful. Like Pa told us it used to be back in Wrecker times. Paradise, he called it. (9.128)
The irony, of course, is that "paradise" has been subverted to supply the world with chaal. Think about how many people could live in this lush valley, or how much food could be grown there. It's such a waste.
It's a flood.
The end of Pinch's previous crop. (9.331-333)
It's easy to miss out on this fact, but given that this is the only place where chaal is grown, Jack has just effectively destroyed the world's supply of the drug. We're not mad. Do you think things will change now? Why or why not?
Hopetown's [...] got the Tonton to keep the scum in check. They control the place with violence an somethin called chaal. (3.149)
Hopetown is a pretty rough place—so much so that chaal is practically used as currency there. What's more, we see that the people in charge explicitly use the drug to control the masses, leading to a truly imbalanced power dynamic.