Sand by Hugh Howey

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Sand by Hugh Howey

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Category: Dystopian Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Sam Tyler
Reviewed by Sam Tyler
Summary: Four siblings find themselves living in Springston, a town situated on the edge of an endless desert. The only means of income is to dive into the depth and retrieve items from a lost past. Their latest discovery may just change the world they live in. 'Sand' is a masterclass in dystopian world building by an author at the peak of his powers.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: June 2014
Publisher: Century
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781780893181

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World building in science fiction is easier said than done. How can you design a completely foreign place and explain it all to your reader, whilst still writing a compelling narrative? If you are an author such as Hugh Howey, the answer is with consummate ease. Howey has already got the fabulous ‘Wool’ trilogy under his belt and following this up was always going to be the difficult second album syndrome. Well, be prepared to be sucked quickly into ‘Sand’, his new novel.

Set in a possible future Earth, ‘Sand’ tells the story of a family’s struggle in an America covered in desert. With the constant winds the town of Springston is constantly shifting with the dunes, the only means of currency is found by diving under the layers of silica and plundering the buried cities of old. Vic, Palmer, Connor and Rob are four siblings who specialise in this. When Palmer is hired to explore deep in the desert what he discovers may just change how everyone in Springston perceives the world around them.

It is hard to overestimate how impressive Howey’s world building skills are. ‘Sand’ is another brilliantly realised world that feels both fantastical and realistic at once. Rather than boring the reader with a prologue novel that explains what happened to Earth, Howey instead plunges his characters into adventure and lets the reader work things out for themselves. Within a few pages your imagination is captured and you know exactly what type of world Howey has created; one of struggles caused by the folly of man.

There is a sense of place and texture to the world of ‘Sand’. Howey, has built a society from the ground up and then written a story within these rules (you will be surprised how many science fiction novels do not do this). There is a believable explanation to how water is gathered, how items are bargained for and how people manage to survive. Simple use of language enriches the novel. Whilst some indigenous people have many words for snow, in ‘Sand’ the people of Springston has many words for sand. This reaffirms how their daily lives are impacted by the stuff; there are different worlds for the sand that falls out of your hair, gather in your boots, when it is wet, when it is hard. This simple use of language really gives weight to the daily struggles that the characters face.

As well as having the great world, Howey is also a great creator of character and relationships. ‘Wool’ concentrated mostly on a protagonist who fought for herself, but here we have a family that must think of the needs of others, as well as their own. The family are instantly likeable but flawed enough to be believable. With their abandonment issues, they all struggle to be better people. Vic, in particular, is excellent, another great female character from the pen (typewriter/keyboard) of Howey. The events which happen to Vic throughout the novel twist and turn. Howey’s ability to shock is wonderful, adding tension to the entire experience, as you never know who will live and who will die.

Another excellent aspect of ‘Sand’ is that Howey has created a story that works within one novel, but remains open for future instalments should he wish. Too many modern fantasy and science fiction titles are written with a trilogy or series in mind meaning that each book ends in a cliff-hanger and a sense of closure is seldom found. Here, Howey has created a complete adventure, but the world still exists. In the future, he could choose to continue the adventure of the survivors here or explore a completely different element of the world.

‘Sand’ is another brilliantly realised and well-written novel by Howey. The world itself is intriguing, the characters likeable and the story impactful. It explores issues of family, environment, survival, as well as being thrilling and funny in places. Fans of dystopian science fiction should certainly pick up this title, but it will work for any lover of thrilling novels.

Sammy Recommendation

If this book appeals then we think that you'll also enjoy Fragments by Dan Wells and God's War by Kameron Hurley.

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