Author: Hugh Howey
I very rarely read a trilogy straight through, one book after another, but I made a very happy exception to my tendency for Hugh Howey’s Wool trilogy. I happened across this author by chance while perusing recommendations on Amazon, and it is a very happy union. I went straight through from Wool to Dust without blinking. So I thought I’d give some of Howey’s other books a go and picked up Sand.
It was wonderful to submerge myself in Howey’s deliciously evocative writing style again. He has a way of embroidering each scene that really places the reader right there in the moment, sensing the environment of his characters. His descriptions and metaphors are sublimely succinct and trigger the exact sensation or emotion that you should be feeling at any moment. You don’t have to force your mind or squeeze your imagination in any way; it all just floats freely into your consciousness. In his style, Hugh Howey approaches writing genius. Add onto this the fact that his genre of choice is post-apocalyptic, and I’m a very happy literate bunny.
In Sand you’ll find another intriguing post-apocalyptic world set on top of hundreds of metres of – you guessed it – sand that has settled over Denver, Colorado. With Howey’s evocative way with words, you really do start to feel the sand in your boots, and perhaps more alarmingly, the inevitable claustrophobia of diving hundred of metres below the surface with the main characters. If you have unresolved fears about being buried alive, you might want to rain check this one. You spend of an uncomfortable amount of time busting for air, so it might not be suitable for slow readers either!
Perhaps one of the best features of Sand is the dynamic between the four siblings, three of whom provide the majority of the narrative. Howey has really captured that dichotomy between love and frustration that ultimately manifests as family loyalty. Their collective tenacity is at the heart of this story, and this is ultimately a story about family, even though it’s embedded in an engaging, brain-teasing plot.
Or, at least, it’s engaging right until the end. After following the siblings around the desert, uncovering mysteries, dastardly plots and cryptic clues as to the origins of the apocalypse, you get nothing. No answers and no ending. There’s a reasonable pace throughout the book, but it really starts to ramp up in the last few chapters, and you start to feel like you’re about to be hit with an awesome climax. But it’s like the author suddenly hit the word-count limit, and he had to draw a hasty conclusion. The eldest sibling goes off on a potentially thrilling mission, but you don’t go with her. You’re left sitting in the middle of the desert staring poignantly at the sky and witnessing the side effects of her mission from miles away. I said conclusion before, but that’s really not what it is at all. It’s a rush of speculation, the bear minimum required to write the final sentence, and it leaves you utterly unfulfilled. You’ve invested all this time and thought and emotion in the story and characters for not very much at all. It’s the literary equivalent of fasting all week and then not getting to eat that pizza and ice-cream sundae at the end of it. What happens to the missing characters? What happens to the bad guys? Who even were the bad guys? What happens to the residents of the desert towns? What happens to the world? How did the world come to be like this? I know it’s good for the imagination and the soul not to have every question raised throughout a story answered, but the amount of answers you get in Sand is utterly mean. Is the point of the exercise for the reader to entirely speculate and invent not only the answers but the whole rest of the ending that was completely missing? I’m not sure I’m down with that. The point of reading someone else’s work is to explore their ideas and perceive a world through someone else’s mental filter. I can listen to my own ideas and perceptions any time I like!
So, yes, Sand has a great deal of potential, and it gives some interesting insights into the human condition. But it’s ultimately disappointing. Howey’s writing is evocative and engaging, and he is without question one of my favourite writers. It’s worth reading for the setting and the sensations alone, but be prepared to turn over the last page and wonder where the hell the rest of the words are.