There’s no doubt that Hugh Howey can really write. Anyone who breaks through from the clamour of the self-publication sector, as Howey famously did with the novellas that eventually made up his dystopic Woo l, arguably has to be a better storyteller than those boasting the might of a publisher behind them.
Certainly, his new standalone volume Sand , which true to form has already been published digitally in five instalments, is a fantastic yarn. As the title suggests, it’s set in arid environs, on a world where skyscrapers have been lost beneath vast dunes.
In this gritty wilderness, sand-divers retrieve artifacts from deep below the desert floor. It’s a precarious and dangerous way to make a living, but divers such as Palmer, the nominal male head of the fractured family whose fortunes Sand follows, dream of making a big score by finding a lost city, Danvar.
So as not to give away spoilers, let’s just say that the rest of the plot is a case of “be careful what you wish for” – and viewed purely as a plot-driven adventure-thriller, Sand works brilliantly. The diving scenes, which are horribly claustrophobic, also impress.
Nevertheless, you’re left with the nagging sensation that Howey hasn’t done enough to explain the backstory here – Danvar, Denver, yes, no? – while Palmer’s family, with the exception of deep-diving big sister Vic, the book’s calm centre, are rather sketchily drawn.
Jonathan Wright twitter.com/Jonathanw101
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