Hi Virtually Readers! It’s a Tuesday on a Shanti week which means it’s time for a review. How exciting! Sadly the review is not for a book I enjoyed. A few weeks ago, I read The Sandcastle Empire by Kayla Olson, and I must admit that I was decieved by the title. I thought it was fantasy, because if I see the word ’empire’ I automatically assume it’s fantasy. However, this book, with a cover as green as Divergent serum, is decidedly dystopian. Anyway, fascinating insights into my mind aside, this novel was so surface level, and that was it’s main problem. It begins as an escape narrative, becomes a mystery, then is an action-thriller until the end. There is a lot of interesting things going on, but Olson, unfortunately, didn’t really explore them, so while the reading experience was fairly enjoyable, I totally failed to care.
Before the war, Eden’s life was easy—air conditioning, ice cream, long days at the beach. Then the revolution happened, and everything changed.
Now a powerful group called the Wolfpack controls the earth and its resources. Eden has lost everything to them. They killed her family and her friends, destroyed her home, and imprisoned her. But Eden refuses to die by their hands. She knows the coordinates to the only neutral ground left in the world, a place called Sanctuary Island, and she is desperate to escape to its shores.
Eden finally reaches the island and meets others resistant to the Wolves—but the solace is short-lived when one of Eden’s new friends goes missing. Braving the jungle in search of their lost ally, they quickly discover Sanctuary is filled with lethal traps and an enemy they never expected.
This island might be deadlier than the world Eden left behind, but surviving it is the only thing that stands between her and freedom.
The presence of class as compulsion for rebellion is an interesting idea, as was allusion to climate change and Kiribati as beginning the apocalypse that fueled said (evilish) rebellion, and new technology
albeit ridden with NO SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE but whatevs. Olson fails utterly to explore these ideas, really letting herself down. Her protagonist, Eden doesn’t engage with these issues or contemplate her relative privilege in the least. She has no awareness that her lifestyle led to a planet where Kiribatians died in swarms and Wolves took over. I wished that the climate change and class aspects had been explored more.
The narrative of learning to trust again was also intriguing, and utterly ignored and rushed. Hope has been consistently betrayed by those close to her, so no wonder she has trust issues. The romance is not-quite instalove, but ridiculous. Deaths and violence are barely questioned. Olson could have turned this into part of the story, in her own style it would read something like Chapter 79. Once I was a girl who would have been shocked by the blood on her hands but now I am something else isn’t it sad. She may even have written something like that, but it was so forgettable that it’s fallen out of my memory. The choppy ‘deep thoughts’ chapters irked me completely. And though most of the characters were teenagers, adults still had the power (and Lowan’s resistance position made ZERO SENSE), which seems like Olson wasn’t able to fully commit to her ‘teenagers saving the world narrative’. This resulted in a ‘worst of both worlds (adults with power, teens with unrealistic influence) scenario which made little to no sense. The rapid shift in the characters goals was disorienting, and I never got a feel for anyone other than Alexa (and her redemption arc could have been way better. Another disappointment). The fast ending, which the protagonist barely played a role in, didn’t work for me at all.
In the world of the Wolf Pack, a sandcastle empire, there were so many opportunities to explore power and privilege and evil and Olson more or less missed them all (even though the social forces are so relevant to today). The story is superficially enjoyable, but by divorcing the musings to random choppy chapters, the story collapses and crumbles like sand into the sea.
Have you read this book? Are you able to enjoy stories which don’t talk about the issues they allude to? What’s your favourite book which features climate change? tell me in the comments!