A few weeks ago, I was fortunate to be able to obtain an advance release copy of Sand Runner, written by Vera Brook. It's a story that claims to be geared towards fans of The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner. Does it? Let's find out.
In the distant future, the world is different. Kaiden Reed, or Kai for short, is a young man barely surviving in a once thriving community. Where families and businesses alike once flourished, the residents now struggle to make ends means, working the few jobs that are available. Individual enterprise is largely banned and all goods are 3D printed. After all, why make things with your own hands and, God forbid, sell those things when you can have the perfect item printed for you. Real, home cooked food is hard to find. A real shower is a luxury.
In this harsh environment, Kai's focus is singular: impressing Sara. The highlight of his otherwise miserable existence, the thought of her brightens his day and motivates his every move. He knows that if he can win the local race, he can finally receive what otherwise is reserved for winners only: a kiss from Sara.
With some help from a friend and a daring move during the race, Kai reaches the finish line ahead of everyone else and receives his kiss. However, the desired relationship that he longs for with her remains elusive, to his frustration.
However, other parties have also noticed his performance in the race and he's approached by an agent for the No Limits Race, the largest global running event of the year. The agent offers him a contract and Kai accepts without too much thought and figures that if he can win the race, Sara will absolutely be his.
As he undergoes invasive medical procedures and rigorous training to prepare him for the big race, he's pushed harder and harder by his team and in particular his agent Emily. At first, Sara remains the reason he's running but as he's pushed to exhaustion by the training routines, his motivations for finishing the race are challenged.
When the race begins, he faces the reality that the race he's entered is different than what is seen on TV in millions of homes. External forces are manipulating the contenders, and Kai has to decide whether he let others manipulate for their own purposes or finish the race on his own terms.
Sand Runner is, in many ways, similar to The Hunger Games. Disillusioned youth that goes to extreme lengths to make a better life for themselves and those around them. Contestants from different regions. Survival against all odds. Manipulation behind the scenes. Emotional drama. Love. It's all there.
Sand Runner is geared towards YA's. The writing is clear and to the point. Although the story moves forward at a pretty rapid pace for most of the time, the surroundings of the events taking place are pretty well described. The description of the village in the early parts of the story particularly stand out but so does the locales visited later in the story. The writer gives me as the reader enough about the world this race is taking place in to immerse myself but also leaves room for my own imagination to make it my own. It's a good balance that's suited for fast-paced stories.
Considering Sand Runner is much about the relationship Kai wants to have with Sara, one would expect there to be high emotional stakes. Sand Runner does not disappoint.
From the beginning, the personality of Kai is on prominent display. He's a daring, somewhat reckless adventurer that doesn't care much about what those around him think. Sometimes, it's like he doesn't even think himself. Reckless is a word that comes to mind. Yet, as the story progresses, we see a different side of him. We see a person that cares deeply about those around him and will go to extreme lengths to help those he's loyal to.
We also get to dive deeper into the emotional turmoil inside of Emily, his agent, and how the development of their relationship affects the course of the race as well as the goals Kai himself has.
Yet, as much as we get to know Kai and Emily, the view into the supporting cast of characters is more limited. If there's one complaint I have about this story, this would be it. For example, although Sara is Kai's love interest in the beginning, we don't really know a whole lot about her. The staff that helps him during the race we also find out little about. The woman handling the 3D printing, for example, seems to have a very complicated past and although some of it is covered, I felt there's more to her than the story dives into. On several occasions I found myself wanting the story to slow down a bit to allow for the characters to evolve a bit more.
However, having said that, I also realize that diving into the backgrounds of all these other people and their ultimate motivations would have taken away from the pace this story really needs. It is, after all, about a race and a race requires action. That, there's plenty of.
If you're at all into the Hunger Games and other YA books published in the last decade, you should do yourself a favor and get this book. It's an easy, exciting read that will keep you reading until the end. It certainly did for me.
Sand Runner is available for pre-order on Amazon and other retailers right now, officially launching on June 2, 2017.