Saba is the real deal: she's a mighty warrior, she's a surprisingly great leader, and she's mature way beyond her eighteen years.
That's the whole package right there, folks.
Nevertheless, this wouldn't be much of a story if our heroine were perfect right from the get-go. The kicker is that while Saba is totally awesome, it takes some seriously insane adventures to make her realize the full extent of her potential.
You can learn a lot about how Saba sees herself just by flipping through the prologue. We mean, just about everything you need to know about early Saba is right here:
Lugh goes first, always first, an I follow on behind.
An that's fine.
That's how it's meant to be. (p.4-7)
At this point in the novel, Saba sees her twin brother Lugh as better and more deserving of respect than she is. No offense to Lugh, but that just doesn't make sense. Saba is letting her love for her brother blind her from reality; her brother may be great, but he's not that great, and he's certainly not thousands of times better than she is. That's a point Jack sums up nicely when he says that the Lugh Saba keeps talking about sounds too amazing to be real.
That's because the Lugh Saba keeps talking about is too amazing to be real.
Saba's undying love for Lugh is thrown into sharp relief by her general feeling of dislike toward her little sister, Emmi. In part, Saba feels negative about her sister because of her relationship with Lugh: she gets so much satisfaction out of their bond that she doesn't need to form one with her little sister.
The deeper reason behind this dynamic is a lot darker, through: Saba blames Emmi for their mother's death. Their mom died soon after giving birth to Emmi, and the family has never been the same since.
As it happens, Saba is forced to face both of these issues when Pa is killed and Lugh is kidnapped. First off, she must now truly fend for herself in a world where it's difficult to survive, much less mount a rescue operation for a kidnapped sibling. More importantly, however, Saba's forced to spend some serious alone time with Emmi (gasp), which brings all of their intense sibling issues right to the surface. The situation is so intense that Saba even thinks at one point about how great it would be to "leave her by the side of the track an ferget she ever got born" (2.42).
Saba's mean, y'all.
Luckily, things get better. In time, Emmi proves herself to be an exceptional companion, with strength, intelligence, and courage well beyond her years. But what really gets Saba is when she realizes how much Emmi's "blue eyes" look "jest like Lugh's" (4.197). Okay, so she's still judging Emmi by the Lugh yardstick, but at least Saba's capable of seeing Emmi as a legit sibling now.
We're not going to lie and say that things are perfect between them after this, but it's a good first step.
So, did we mention that Saba becomes the most feared warrior in the entire wasteland? Yeah, that's important. Saba's so fierce she even earns the nickname "The Angel of Death." That doesn't happen by accident. Being tossed into cage fights isn't a fun experience for Saba, but it's one place where she learns to take care of herself: "Because now I see [...] what I ain't gotta do, which is waste time thinking that anybody's gonna help us. [...] I cain't count on nobody but me" (4.448).
The fact is that Saba has a lot of strength; she just doesn't necessarily recognize it. At the same time—nobody said she wasn't a complicated character—she's hesitant to rely on anyone but herself. For example, when she finds kindred spirits in the Free Hawks, a band of rugged female warriors like herself, Saba is hesitant to team up at first: she has a hard time trusting strangers.
Maybe she has abandonment issues; her mother did die on her, after all. Whatever the reason, Saba does want to do it all on her own.
We see a similar dynamic forming with Jack, Saba's new boy-toy. Although it's clear from moment one that Saba is head-over-heels for this hunky thief, she refuses to dive in to their relationship and let her feelings out. There are quite a few reasons for this, but the only one that really matters is that Saba is scared to trust someone as much as she already trusts Jack. It freaks her out.
But she gets over it. Though she tries to push her friends away, they prove their loyalty to her in a million ways and one. It's a good thing, too, because she wouldn't have been able to take down the King without their help.
And boy, does she take that schmuck down.
After winning the climactic final battle and saving Lugh, Saba is left without a goal for the first time in a while. She's reunited with her fam, which is great, but she quickly slips back into a subordinate role. In the novel's closing moments, for example, she lets Lugh lead the way, echoing the passage from the novel's prologue.
To his credit, Lugh won't accept this. Here's how he reacts: "Hey, he says, what're you doin back there? I ain't got a clue where we're goin. Git on up here an lead the way" (9.1123).
After everything she's been through, Saba no longer needs to place Lugh on a pedestal at her own expense. That's huge. We don't know what's coming next for the Angel of Death, but we hope she'll meet it head on with her newly earned sense of confidence.