Hugh Howey’s breakout success of 2013, the stunning Wool trilogy was a game-changer not only in the sci-fi genre but in the world of publishing itself. The self-published epic delighted readers worldwide and the final part, Dust released in August brilliantly concluded a captivating piece of work that will continue to delight fans for many years to come.
But no sooner had we said goodbye to the Wooliverse than a new title, Sand was being bandied about. What was even more surprising was how quickly it had been written. By late December fans were being treated to the first instalment in this new series, with the last episode arriving in January. The new omnibus UK print edition is available from today.
Sand is yet another epic story set in the distant future in a world where the aforementioned granular substance has buried entire cities leaving people to eke out an existence in a harsh desert climate by any means possible. Aided by sand-altering technology, skilled divers can manipulate the sand with vibrations making it flow so they can dive deep underground, recovering lost artifacts (in fact just ordinary everyday objects from present day) from long lost cities selling them on for huge profit.
When Palmer, a skilled diver and his friend Hap are hired to dive by a dangerous group of pirates (yes there are pirates!) they become unwittingly involved in a huge discovery which will have dangerous repercussions for everyone, including Palmer’s family, who themselves are struggling to survive while also dealing with the disappearance of their father.
Sand has a very different feel to Wool. It’s a much grittier (sorry!) affair in many ways reversing the dynamic. We now have an open environment and a totally disorganised and essentially lawless society where characters fend for themselves, one dusty day at a time. It has a much more adult feel dealing with sexual themes and gory comeuppances and is littered with more swear words than you may be used to from this author but this fits perfectly with the world Howey has once again expertly built and while it may not be as intricate and detailed a world as that of the Silos it certainly feels much more grounded in reality for some reason. Not too much is explained about the technology, giving it an almost steampunk feel, we just know it looks cool and it works but we don’t really need to know how.
The beauty of Sand however is in the writing. There is a true emotion throughout as we see a disengaged family struggle to reunite only to risk being torn apart again by the forces working against them. The characters are subtly introduced and expertly enhanced at key points, not only building on their personalities and history but also keeping the plot flowing steadily. The vivid, contrasting imagery can shift from beauty to ugliness in an instant and back again seamlessly and there are some moments of – and I do not say this lightly- sheer brilliance in Howey’s prose and for all it’s rough and tumble, Sand has some well-placed and genuinely tender moments which at times can cleverly disarm the reader temporarily, leaving them totally unprepared for the next fiendish plot twist.
But fear not, this ain’t no sandy Seventh Heaven. Sand is a highly-charged, action-filled, thrill-a-minute, ass-kicking, jawbreaking blockbuster and makes no apologies for it. The panic and claustrophobia of the dives is portrayed perfectly and the tension is retained every single time a character dives into the unforgiving sand even if just for a moment, knowing the slightest error of judgement means instant death. This savage world leaves no prisoners and Danger brashly loiters around every dune and street corner. It’s a world where it’s much easier to look away than help and sadly this is already starting to mirror today’s society, but as our characters prove, the most exceptional of circumstances can yield the most unexpected response from some people.
If there was ever any doubt about Hugh Howey’s longevity as a writer, Sand is proof that there can be none. Consistency is hard enough for a writer to achieve, constant and sustained improvement is another thing entirely.
Now I know it’s only January, but I think I’ve already found my Book of 2014.