The Sandcastle Empire by Kayla Olson
Publication Date: June 6, 2017
Rating: 3 stars
Source: eARC from Edelweiss
Summary (from Goodreads):
When all hope is gone, how do you survive?
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.
What I Liked:
I haven't really been following the massive amounts of debut novels that have published and will be published this year, but this is one of the few that I had been really looking forward to reading. I'm an environmental engineering student and as soon as I came across this book, and heard how deeply rooted the story was in environmental themes, I knew I had to have it. You know it has to be pretty scientific and environment-focused if Leonardo DiCaprio will be producing its film. While I enjoyed this book and I don't not recommend it, I didn't love it like I had expected. Still, this is an interesting novel and I definitely think it should be discussed, especially given these times we live in.
It has been years since Eden was orphaned. It's been years since she lived a normal life, before the war, before the Wolves took over and ceased control and instilled such potent fear in the lives of survivors. For two years, Eden has been biding her time, waiting for the perfect opportunity to escape - and it comes. Eden escapes with three girls who are strangers to her. They reach an island - the island, according to Eden's father's field guide. Eden's father knew of Sanctuary, an island of neutral ground, and Eden and the girls have found it. But the island isn't what it seems, with its treacherous terrain and creepy plants. They're alone, but are they? With the arrival of three boys come answers, but even more questions. Nothing about Sanctuary Island is what Eden - or anyone - expected.
This story is such an interesting one to classify. It's definitely post-apocalyptic, given that things really started because of rising sea levels, contaminated drinking water, and other effects of climate change. The Wolves began a bloody revolution after Envirotech, a company with cutting edge technology, prioritized the rich people who could pay for their products. Purified water, for example, and admission to a paradise-like island. The Wolves sought justice, being those less fortunate that would never be able to afford what Envirotech offered. The story is also obviously science fiction, given that the themes are heavily scientific. And dystopia too, because of the militaristic rule of the Wolves. It's an intriguing and terrifying mix of genres, that make up a rather realistic story.
I am totally here for the science! You don't see a lot of YA books delve into climate change and the deadly cause-and-effect feedback loop that occurs. Everything about this story occurs because of climate change; the need for purified drinking water spurred on the rise of Envirotech, which caused the disparity between the rich and the poor to become more pronounced, which led to the rise of the Wolfpack, which led to the rebellion and revolution. Climate change is an immense catalyst of this story, and as scary as climate change is, I was so happy to see its presence in the story. YA books could benefit from including such a real and very present danger in our world today.
This book is written entirely in Eden's first-person POV. In the first chapter or so, Eden is preparing to escape once and for all. And she does, with a lot of luck (it seemed lucky). She and three other girls hightail it by sailboat, and find Sanctuary. Eden has known that Sanctuary is not a myth for years, since her father's field guide notebook was returned to her. The field guide saves Eden and the girls as they explore the island. Eden's father was an engineer who was responsible for a lot of things relating to the revolution - though the revolution was in no way his fault.
I liked Eden, though it took me a bit to fully latch onto her character and care about her. She has quiet strength and the spirit of a survivor. She has many fears that she tries to overcome in this book. That is something that I really liked about this book and this character - the author explicitly states Eden's fear (for example, snakes and dark water), and the author has Eden face each of them.
There are three other girls that escape with Eden (by chance) - Alexa, Finnley, and Hope. I didn't really care for Finnley from the start, though I didn't hate her either. Alexa came off as self-absorbed and haughty, but I actually liked her despite these qualities, and as the story went on, I grew to like and respect her even more. I liked Hope, with her kindness and sweetness.
Three boys join the girls on the island about a third or maybe two-fifths into the story. They arrive via ship and they are there for a reason. Cass seems like the leader, and he and Alexa happen to have a lot of history. My heart hurt for Alexa, with how Cass leaves their relationship. Phoenix is more of a periphery character, though he has his moments.
Lonan, however, becomes a very important character in the book. He holds many secrets, and he turns out to be a very critical player in the whole plot. He's not just a smart and charming boy with an easy smile - he has secrets upon secrets. I liked him immediately.
You can probably guess who is involved in the romance. I liked Lonan and Eden together. They are both leaders, though Lonan is more of an authoritative and commanding one, whereas Eden is a quiet one. They are a good match. I wanted to feel more for their chemistry (see below), but I do think they fit well together. I definitely wanted more Cass/Alexa. No love triangle, by the way!
Most of the story is set on the island, though the final thirty percent or so is set elsewhere. I don't want to say anything more about that, because it gets spoiler-y really quickly. But I will say that I liked the island setting a lot. The island was incredibly creepy and chilling. As soon as the group moved off the island, my interest waned a little. It just wasn't the same! I'll explain below.
What I Did Not Like:
Obviously, given how long my "Likes" section is, I enjoyed this book. And I'm not going to deny that. I liked the book, and I don't not recommend it. But I also didn't feel particularly strongly about some aspects.
For example, I wanted more chemistry between Lonan and Eden! Personality-wise, I think they are a good fit. But I didn't fall in love with them falling love. Or them falling in lust. Or whatever. They're teens on an island, depraved of all sorts of stimuli! How are they not constantly checking each other out? I expected more from Lonan and Eden in terms of chemistry. Where are the steamy kisses in warm natural pools of water, or whatever? The author could have done so much with the romance, especially in terms of the chemistry. The romance felt a bit lacking, because there was no tension between Lonan and Eden. I could feel their emotional connection (the two of them growing to trust and care about each other), but not their physical connection. They don't even kiss until the book is almost over!
Also, I wanted more from Cass and Alexa's relationship. The author could have done so much with that relationship! Second-chance romance, anyone? Some serious angst between the pair? Alexa has her fair share of angst and pain built up, but I wanted to see that spill over and interactions with Cass to be had. The two of them are like fire and ice - I wanted to see them ignite and explode!
Like I said above, I liked the island setting. Some scenes had me in chills. But once Eden and the gang encountered a certain thing on the island, and they eventually left the island, I just wasn't as interested. The big twist and the reveals probably didn't have the intended effect on me. And I was a little bored, after some of the big reveals. I didn't really care or follow what was the M.O. of Eden and her new friends (friends I have not mentioned yet). The last third of the book seemed sloppy and rushed, compared to the rest of the book.
Also, nothing felt really resolved, despite the fact that this book is currently listed as a standalone. I didn't like how certain aspects of the book (which I can't even mention specifically) aren't addressed in the end. I'll try to be vague - for example, something pretty serious is done to Lonan and the others (not Eden though). Is this taken care of? Is the related tech destroyed? Also, where will Eden and Lonan go - what are their plans, now that this and that have been taken care of? There is no epilogue of the two of them making out on a beach or something like that. Of course, the author could be leaving the ending in such a vague state in case a sequel (or more) is contracted. But it's annoying. The ending is wrapped up, but very vague and certain things are wrapped up in a way that is too vague and general and needed mores specifics and detail. Basically, the ending was too perfect in a vague way, but there were also things that were definitely not addressed.
Also, not a huge deal, but the title...? Someone explain the relevance of it to the story to me, please. I'm not trying to be snarky - I legitimately don't get it!
Would I Recommend It:
I actually highly recommend this book, especially to those like me who love science-y books in YA literature. This is not a pure dystopia novel, nor is it purely a post-apocalyptic novel, It has both of those genres/sub-genres mixed in, and a lot of environmental themes that are really important. Economic ones, too. I didn't totally love the book, but I recommend it because it's a relevant and important book that I think young adults should read. The issues discussed are incredibly real and we should be paying attention to them.
3.5 stars. I hesitate to round up because I really don't think I'm feeling a 4-star rating for this book. It's not that I didn't like it, it's that I didn't feel completely satisfied after finishing it. You know that feeling when you finish a book and you're like, "wow, that was great"? I didn't experience that, despite the fact that I do think it was a great book overall. If the author writes anything to follow this book, I will definitely read it!
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