Author: Hugh Howey
Attention to all fans of dystopian fiction! The king of science fiction is back with another novel to satisfy his audience. And I’m pleased to say he manages to do just that!
Don’t worry if you haven’t read any of his previous work (although why on earth haven’t you read Wool?) because according to Hugh Howey himself, Sand is the perfect first book to get a feel for his writing if you haven’t yet acquired his novels on your reading list. With a plot that keeps readers gripped, it is easy to see why.
Set on planet Earth at an unknown point in the future, Sand follows a family, consisting on four siblings and their prostitute mother, who must ultimately pull together when disaster strikes their town, and a ghost from their past reappears. The consequences of past events are still rife in the daily lives of the family, and the reader is forced to do some guesswork as to what happened. However, the family feud becomes eclipsed half way though the novel, as bigger problems become apparent. Palmer, one of the siblings and the first character introduced to the reader, is in trouble, and needs his family to help him. He has, unwittingly, discovered the one thing everyone in their small world has spent their lives searching for; an underground city, part of the ‘Old World’. Palmer knows this means wealth beyond anything he can imagine, but it also means big trouble.
As with Howey’s previous novels, the writing is the best feature; it brings the novel to life in ways that other authors fail. His distinctive writing style tells things as they are, rather than taking three pages of poetic prose to explain a characters mood. This style somehow seems to fit his genre of choice, dystopian fiction.
Howey chooses to tell his characters stories through first person narration, usually through the siblings. However, it is the viewpoint of their parents that the audience craves the read. Every other chapter jumps from one character to another which is risky in a novel like this, sometimes a writer can pull it off well, any other times readers get confused and lost along the way. Luckily, Howey’s cliffhanger-endings of each chapter is enough to urge readers to carry on. This is actually because Sand was first published in five separate parts; but together as a whole book it works as a method to keep readers interested.
The unusual universe that these characters reside in is an instant point of curiosity, grabbing the reader’s attention. As you would expect with the first, in what I imagine is possibly going to grow into a series, Sand raises more questions than it answers. What happened to result in everyone living in this desert? Why is the family split up? And unlike most science fiction/dystopian novels, Sand is relatively easy to understand and follow. The characters names are simple, and Howey explains any jargon in handy little asterisks, which explain any new sand-related words at the bottom of the page.
There is strong imagery throughout the novel of the sandy desert the family live in. Grains of sand get everywhere, in their mouths, their food, and their eyes… To them it is a way of life, albeit a difficult one. Readers will almost be able to feel sand between their toes as they read. Howey is excellent at making you feel uncomfortable but almost putting his audience inside the pages of his book.
Something else taken from reality and molded into science fiction is ‘diving’, and the majority of the book revolves around sand diving. It works as you would imagine diving in the real world to work, only the characters in Sand dive into, well… sand. The reason for doing so is mainly to find treasures from the ‘Old World’; however, this is a dangerous job, as the characters soon discover for themselves. The character of Vic, possibly the most likable for her presentation as a strong female lead, similar to Jules in Wool, is a champion sand diver. She knows what she’s doing when it comes to her job. And it seems that this talent runs in the family, supposedly beginning with their absent father.
The character development within Sand is another pro for the novel. The mother, Rose, comes across as an uncaring, cold-hearted woman, more interesting in running her brothel, than making amends with her estranged children. However, as the situation grows worse and they pull together, the reader discovers her anger and frustration with the world she has been left with, after the disappearance of her husband and the father of her children.
The younger members of the family, Conner and Rob, also have a big part to play, and it is with them that Howey’s writing is most impressive. For all the roughness of his language, there is a tenderness that readers will recognise as young men missing the presence of a father figure in their lives.
Despite the family drama that it revolves around, Sand is an action packed novel with plenty of shocks and twists right up to the last page. It is a unique book with only Howey’s previous trilogy, Wool, as a rival. It will grab your attention and stay with you until well after the last page; this is a world not easily escaped from.
Sand has the ability to be expanded into a series, but whether Howey has any immediate plans for this will remain to be seen, and although there is a strong sense throughout that there will be at least one more book, I can’t find anything confirming this. Watch this space…