A review of Hugh Howey’s ‘Sand’

Having read and loved Hugh Howey’s ‘Wool’ trilogy, I was so excited to get an ARC of his new novel – Sand.

SandAs the title suggests, the protagonists live in a world where the only constant is the sand. A relentless wind buries buildings, forcing people to move on and move up on a regular basis. Carrying buckets of water away from the few surviving wells is a full time, 24 hour a day job. In such a hostile landscape, everything of value – from copper coins to clothes to metals and building materials – is sourced from below the sands, from the cities of the world below, buried far beneath the dunes.

In Springston, people carve out lives for themselves as best they can. The lucky ones live on the wall, which holds back the worst of the sands as best it can. The not so lucky ones live in the shadows of the wall, at the mercy of the shifting landscape, forced to do whatever it takes to survive. Since their father left, Palmer, Vic, Conner, Rob and their mother have been living in the only way that they can, driven by anger, hurt and a curiosity for the unknown.

Palmer is a sand diver – regularly diving beneath the surface with tanks of air to reach the wealth of buried material. When a group of brigands from the north hire him for a job, he has to dive deeper than he’s ever been before in the search for the long lost city of Danvar. But the people that hire him have darker motives that merely finding buried treasure, and the consequences of finding Danvar might destroy everything and everyone he knows.

Back in Springston, Connor and Rob find a half-dead girl crawling across the sands. If they can nurse her back to health, she might just hold the key to what lies beyond No Man’s Land, and to why no one who leaves ever comes back.

Howey’s ‘Wool’ series was set entirely underground, giving it a sense of claustrophobia that propelled the action forwards. By contrast, ‘Sand’ is set in a dystopian future with an abundance of space, but it somehow has the same effect. Sand is an enemy that can’t be reasoned with and can’t be stopped. One wrong move or error of judgement from a diver means instant death – there’s nothing that can be done to stop it. People simply have to live as best they can, fighting an endless battle that seems to have no end. As a reader, I found the overwhelming presence and the never-ending sameness of the sand quite disorientating at first, and it took me a while to get into it.

There are clear parallels with legends such as Atlantis, where untold riches are said to lie within reach, if only we knew where and how to find them. The people living in Springston operate largely without rules and structure. It’s very much a case of survival of the fittest – how rich you are and how well you live depend on how resourceful you are and if you can dive the deepest or for the longest. In an uncomfortable reflection on our own society, sometimes helping yourself can mean actively hurting others, or at the very least standing by while they suffer.

The cause of the state of this world is explained more as the book goes on, but I would have loved it if we had been given a bit more detail. That said, we’re set up nicely for a sequel, so hopefully this will come later. Howey has already proved that he is a master at giving us different perspectives, so hopefully we’ll see more of the world beyond No Mans Land in the rest of the series.

Many thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for the ARC.

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2 thoughts on “A review of Hugh Howey’s ‘Sand’

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