I’m not familiar with the works of this author – I heard about this book through social media. I’m very pleased I listened to that recommendation. Scars in the Sand is a brutal, yet well-written, story. It’s short and clearly leads into other books by the author but that is no bad thing. Frankly (excuse the pun, I couldn’t help myself), I think that anyone reading it will want to read more. Let’s break it down:
This is mostly within a slave pit in a location that feels a little like one might imagine a gladiatorial ring in an Arab country would have been like. Think somewhere between Gladiator and the pit-fighting in Conan (the original Schwarzenegger film not the Momoa one). Then there’s some flashbacks to how the protagonist got to where he is. Despite the necessarily narrow confines of the setting, the author manages to create a sense of the world outside. Hints of deeper political conflicts and a promise of what is to come later. If I’ve understood correctly, this is more of an origin story for one of the author’s established characters. It works wonderfully.
The MC, called Harlin, is tough, bitter and hard as nails. And he’s young (but this is quite clearly not YA) – how young you need to find out from reading, though I found it believable. His attitude could have made him unappealing, but this is one of the things that impressed me most. The writer has the skill to take a withdrawn and obviously damaged young man and make us sympathize with him – see past the pain and anger to really engage. The length of the book isn’t enough to see a full character arc but it is enough to get a sense that there is (or will be, I don’t know yet as I haven’t read the other books, but we’ll return to that…) a well-developed arc for Harlin. He is a round character, not flat. A character that felt alive and vital rather than just a caricature. I feel like the writer has an excellent grasp of what makes people tick and how someone would react to trauma. Top notch!
10/10 (I’m not kidding!)
This is a potent and to the point. Harlin is a slave gladiator. Will he survive? Will he escape? Will he get vengeance? It’s in the execution of the plot that it excels. Was I gripped? Yes. Did I want to know what happened next? Yes. Did I know what was going to happen next? No. A tight, well-executed plot with plenty of surprises that left me wanting more.
This doesn’t matter to everyone. To me, it’s vital. I find it difficult to read stories if the prose isn’t up to scratch. Doesn’t matter how compelling the tale (and this is compelling) if the writing is poor, I can’t carry on with reading. That’s not a problem here. Couldn’t be farther from it, in fact. I find the style of the author’s prose to be tight, sharp and adept at conjuring the events and characters for me.
I (insert your swear word of choice for emphasis here) loved this book. It’s definitely on the grimdark scale (GDAF for those in the know) but lacks some of the pitfalls of other books in the genre. This isn’t brutality just to shock you. Every element of the story has been well-crafted to deepen your connection to Harlin and the world he inhabits. It’s grit and grime as a reflection of reality. The psychology of the main character feels real to me. I’ve mentioned that I think this is a sort of prequel to a book or series that I haven’t read as yet. Reading this makes me want more by this author and more in the world and with the vivid characters he has created. You’ll feel the same.
9.5/10 – So good that: BANG, BANG, BANG – it’ll knock you dead!