The Sandcastle Empire Review: It’s A Game Of Survival With Questionable World-Building

August 15, 2017 by Aila J. | 1 star, ARC Reviews, Books, Reviews

The Sandcastle Empire Review: It’s A Game Of Survival With Questionable World-BuildingThe Sandcastle Empire by Kayla Olson
Published by HarperTeen on June 6th 2017
Source: Publisher, Edelweiss
Genres: Young Adult, Dystopian, Mystery, Romance, Action & Adventure
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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.

Apparently this book has been optioned for film, which I believe is a waste of time after finishing it. The Sandcastle Empire unfortunately rubbed me in all the wrong ways, and I wouldn’t really recommend it to readers looking for something with substance. The only thing it has going is the story of survival and each characters’ intense desire to keep living. The non-stop action does a good job in keeping a reader’s adrenaline going, but with such a superficial foundation for the plot and world, there’s no basis to enjoy it at all. I never felt scared for the characters dying or anything, mainly because I didn’t care for any of them. Instead of slowly figuring out the mysteries that the characters are caught up in, readers are given the information through dialogue and explanations. Finally, I found the world extremely uncomfortable to read about and all I can say is that it just wasn’t my style.

The book immediately starts with an info-dump from the first person perspective of Eden, who escapes from an island that kept her prisoner for the past years after Zero Day, when the Wolves first rose to power. This info-dump is 10% of my copy – trust me, that’s not the last info-dump we’ll be given. Eden and other girl survivors steal a small boat and set out to a place called Sanctuary Island, where she believes they will be safe from the hegemony of the Wolves. When they land on the islands, however, they suddenly discover that things aren’t quite what they seem.

From the very beginning, I was already wary of the voice that Eden presents. Throughout the book, she speaks of survival in metaphors and the importance of it. It wasn’t until I discovered more of the world, however, when I became uncomfortable. The basis is this: the Wolfpack started out as a trend, a hashtag, a fandom. But suddenly the movement blew up and the people fighting for their rights are at the top of the ladder now. The Wolves were the poor and oppressed, the people who society ignores the frustrations and calls of. When they rose to power, they turned the tides and suddenly privileged people are becoming prisoners – including Eden. I’m not sure why the Wolves are called that as well because they’re just people who wanted more rights for themselves.

Okay, this storyline is obviously controversial and to each their own (why no one ever mentioned this particular aspect of the book, I don’t know). But what made this an ill read for me was that there was no nuance or discussion to the whole background. Olson writes antagonists that are cut black-and-white. Eden’s voice is right, the people who took her prisoner are wrong. Eden has suffered so much, and so has all the other prisoners. The Wolves are clearly in the wrong. The book gives no depth into how the oppressed must have felt before they took over. What were their motives, their passions for turning families against each other? It’s explained so clear and dry and vague that I couldn’t wrap my head around it at all.

They’re so lauded by their own for breaking the cycle of privilege in power, people don’t realize they’ve simply traded one broken thing for another.
Power takes like blood to the Wolves, and one drop isn’t enough.

Eden’s voice basically goes like this: “the Wolves were oppressed but who cares about that because now they’re doing the controlling.” This kind of narrative really disturbs me because it’s excusing the way she and others like her treated the Wolves in the first place. All Eden cares about is fighting against the Wolves and surviving herself – but when does this cycle end? There is no thought, no depth to this convoluted world. She never thinks about society’s past actions and how they could have stopped this uprising, and the differences between the oppressed before and the oppressed now. The thoughts and story that take place are so extremely superficial. Among this major event are also some natural disasters (the book takes place around 2055) and exploitation of technology. The book never goes depth into how the economy is like where around the world the Wolves have influence (all it mentions is that the banks are useless). Where is the government? The only semblance of reigning group against the Wolves is called the Alliance. Who are these people and what gives them the jurisdiction to “go against” the Wolves? How are they getting money for funding (plot point) if the Wolves, and their corporate counterparts, have taken over? How did a resistance initially going for the poor and oppressed eventually become dominated by a corporation? There is also your obligatory resistance group called the Resistance because, well, it’s a dystopia. If technology is so nice, yachts and holograms are used, why aren’t there phones and why do the characters use radios instead?

The thing about setting a dystopia so close to modern day is that there are so many things to consider and resolve, and Olson does neither of those. The author chooses the easy path instead and picks and chooses things to use at whatever contributes the most to the atmosphere of the book: radios because the characters are trying to survive in a jungle on the island, holograms because it’s easy to casually dismiss that, etc. Obviously suspension of belief is needed for a sci-fi story, but this book just takes it too far for me with no explanation nor justification of the events that happen. Oh, and apparently the “third world” countries start gaining in power because of all the humanitarian aid America sent HAHA okay thanks for that, book.

So now Eden and three other girls are trapped on an island where traps and illusions run rampant. Suddenly the group adds three other boys as well. The only POC is Alexa, an Asian girl (where in Asia? Who knows) that’s a Wolf gone rogue. While the author had a chance to explore the reasoning behind the Wolves’ actions to rebel and instill hegemony through the perspective of one, she chooses not to. Instead, Alexa is caustic and selfish. She does not grow that much by the end of the book, remaining an annoying and frustrating character throughout. The reason of her going rogue revolves around a – gasp – BOY of all things. Hope and Finnley are the other girls and are as bland as white bread (and share similar features too). They basically lose a role in the latter half of the book.

Choose, Eden: choose, choose.
Humanity is not wired to choose death.
Not our own deaths, anyway.
So I choose life. And the irony is, it doesn’t feel any different.

Instead of following Eden on discovering the secrets of the island and the survival book her father left her, readers are left seeing them go through hallucinations and broken bridges. It’s a book that targets survival, with cliché dystopian elements instilled as well. The climax of the book is literally an info-dump all over again. All that information Eden and her friends never discovered on the island? Handed through dialogue. None of the characters had dimension – they’re ALL the “good guys” and the only reason why one of them could act out is because of mind control (wow, so original!). If you asked me to describe the boys in their group, my mind would fizzle out because all I could remember were their different hair colors. The weak world-building and characterization essentially marks this only as a “survival” read that will pump adrenaline through readers. Other than that, the “twists” are just overused tropes that follow the path of the usual dystopian novel.

epilogue

I’m sorry to say this book wasn’t my cup of tea. Forget that, it wasn’t my type of cup, let alone tea. I had so many problems with the world that failed to deliver on nuance and discussion despite its controversial foundation. Oh, did I say foundation? There is such a flimsy one, the questions in this review could have unraveled them with a snap. I’m usually all about science fiction and the dangers (especially environmentally) of actions, but this book gives absolutely no message on these aspects. I honestly thought there would be a good discussion on how we should treat the environment better because of the way the natural disasters, but there isn’t. The characters are very shallow and other than their intensity for survival, are basically cardboard cutouts. Who fall in love easily despite everything going around them. For a good science fiction-dystopia story with better integration of the environment in its world (AND with diverse characters), I would recommend Want by Cindy Pon (my review is here). For another typical YA dystopia with a poorly imagine world and black-and-white reasoning and characters? This one could work.

Rating: 1 out of 5

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Thank you Edelweiss and Harper Teen for the review copy!

Aila-Sig

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Aila is a voracious teen reader whose nose is always in a book. She is eternally reading, crying about characters, or clutching her heart because of the feels. Let's talk about our obsessions on Twitter @aila_1woaa!

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12 responses to “The Sandcastle Empire Review: It’s A Game Of Survival With Questionable World-Building

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  2. Yikes! I’ve seen a lot of good reviews for this, but I never managed to get through the first two chapters without getting bored (I thought maybe I was just going through a reading slump, but maybe it was just overly boring after all). I’m sorry to hear that you didn’t like this one, and I have to wonder why it was optioned for film after reading your review – it doesn’t seem like it would really make that great of a movie. Great review, and thanks for sharing your thoughts with us!
    Kelly @ Here’s to Happy Endings recently posted…Aftercare Instructions by Bonnie PipkinMy Profile

  3. Ohhhhh phew. I didn’t really enjoy this book either. The beginning had me so confused – definitely because of the lack/poor quality of world-building. I kind of sped past the beginning, to be honest. I really only started to get more interested when the protagonist reaches the island. Even then though… I was confused about a lot of things. This book was such a disappointment for me! I had soooo been looking forward to loving it because of its supposed environmental themes. Which were there, but they couldn’t save the book for me. Oh well!

    Great review! Have a wonderful week, Aila. =)

    Alyssa @ The Eater of Books!
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  4. Ugh, yeah. See, I am a sucker for dystopian, and so I liked the basic survival stuff. I liked it a lot actually, for sheer entertainment value. But I am so… befuddled with that damn “world-building”! I talked about it in my review, because let’s be real, it is AWFUL. I mean, this girl basically BLAMES people of a lower socioeconomic strata for like.. not wanting to be destitute? And part of me can’t be sure if the whole point will be that the girl realizes that it IS wrong, but… what if it ISN’T, and it’s just a whole series of awful messiness? I DON’T KNOW!

    And when I wrote my review, like you said, I could find NO ONE else who had mentioned this! So I wondered if maybe I was making a mistake, you know? Reading it wrong, almost? So reading your review makes me feel better! But now it also makes me want to be harsher with my rating, since I KNOW that it wasn’t just me. UGH. Seriously though, fabulous review, and I am definitely going to read Want ASAP!
    Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight recently posted…Review: The Girl with the Red Balloon by Katherine LockeMy Profile

    • Yay for Want! *dances*

      And you’re definitely not the only one Shannon. I saw your review on GR and I was like “omg thank goodness someone else SEES how wrong this world is!” I was really surprised at the amount of people who just skipped through it! I think writing this kind of world is really dangerous without the nuance and discourse that it needs side-by-side. The main character was really ridiculous with her logic and yes, the survival story was there, but everything else about the world set it up for a loose foundation that practically fell apart at its seams.

      I really hope the movie doesn’t become big because this book is a total Mess.
      Aila J. recently posted…The Sandcastle Empire Review: It’s A Game Of Survival With Questionable World-BuildingMy Profile

  5. Aila. I am so sorry you finished reading this. I actually stopped about a third of the way through because I just really couldn’t take how the world was developed. It completely rubbed me the wrong way, and because of that I couldn’t really just sit there and keep reading. And yeah, characters didn’t leave an impression on me whatsoever. SO YES I AGREE AILA, this book kind of sucked hard. And I am so glad that I did not stick around for the end (but I’m sorry you ended up finishing it).

    Want is high on my TBR. I’m hoping to get to it soon 😀
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