20509356Reviewed by Marcus Hammond

Hugh Howey has a talent for placing vivid, emotionally gripping characters in devastating environments. In Sand OmnibusHowey builds a world, covered in sand, that takes as much of a physical and emotional toll on the characters as do the events of their fractured and unsympathetic lives. The story, originally published as five separate novellas, follows Vic, Palmer, Conner, Rob, and Rose through personal, familial, and external turmoil. As each chapter deftly flows between character perspectives, the psyche’s of each is laid bare. The realness of each characters reaction to their personal lives, the chaos of a devastating terrorist attack, and the harsh terrain surrounding them makes each character relatable and likeable.

The story begins with Palmer, the second oldest boy in the family, taking a sand diving job from a group of foreigners. He is hired to search the depths of sand for evidence of the lost city of Danvar. In doing so, Palmer would become both rich and famous as the city, believed to be full of ancient artifacts, was thought to be only a myth. The plot turns, however, as the mythical city was only a diversion from the foreigner’s real plans to dig up long, lost atomic bombs and destroy the few towns that still exist. This leads the rest of Palmer’s family to become entrenched in the chaotic, violent chaos.

While the deftly constructed psyches of Palmer and his family are key to the development of the story, the environment plays an important role too. The way Palmer, his older sister, Vic, and younger brother, Conner interact with the sand makes the notion that these people survive by diving into the sand, like scuba divers, completely realistic. This is shown as Palmer, Vic, and Conner move through the environment with fluidity. They dive for bombing victims and manipulate the sand to escape threats like it’s not a completely fantastical notion. The fluidity and harshness of the environment creates a metaphor that illustrates how one survives in the harshest environments links to his/her ability to survive the harshest mental and physical traumas life can throw at them.

In the audio book version of the novel, Karen Chilton provides the narrative voice. Her reading emphasizes the drama that is portrayed through the different character perspectives very well. At a little over 10 hours in length, stopping and starting the story may cause a bit of confusion, however. Chilton’s voice, at times, doesn’t really differentiate between the different characters (the chapter sub-headings provide perspective change), but Howey’s writing is so expressive it is hard not to feel the emotion and chaos spill off the page and into one’s ears.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

After obtaining a Masters in Liberal Arts and Literature Marcus has dedicated most of his time to teaching English Composition for a community college in the Midwest. In his down time, he spends time avidly reading an eclectic selection of books and doing freelance writing whenever he gets the chance. He lives in Kansas with his wife.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Audible.com. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.