Thursday, May 6, 2010

HBIC Review of The Sand Dragon

Title: The Sand Dragon
Author: Michael F. Stewart
Page Count: 256 pages (pdf format)
Publisher: Double Dragon Publishing
Copy for review provided by the author in exchange for an honest review

50 words or less: Shake up one mysterious skeleton, a creepy town full of creepy people, skeletons in the closet, a horrible disease, and a fight for your life, and what do you get? AAHHHHHHH RUN THEY'RE AFTER ME!!!!

Holy guacamole, people. I read The Sand Dragon last night before bed, and I think I just managed to shut my eyes about five minutes ago. This story is Scary with a capital S- it takes a little while to get going but once it does, it takes off in a big way and is riveting up until the end.

This creepy, gruesome story starts broiling away right from page one- the setting is a bleak, isolated, frigid town where all of the residents would rather be somewhere else or are slowly working themselves into early graves. There's Sandy, who works for the oil company and is a reluctant pseuo-parent to Patrick, her adult, deranged nephew. There's Alice and Jamie, an engaged couple who keep meaning to leave town and get married and do something else but never manage; all that keeps them going are Alice's faith and Jamie's hope that someday Alice will decide she wants to have sex with him. There's animosity between groups of townspeople along racial lines; there's a tension over past allegations of abuse that simmers away and is ready to boil over. There are other townsfolk who are just as creepy, and since so many of the people in the area are transient, there's no real sense of community among these people at the beginning of the story.

Thrown into the mix is Kim Axon, a paleontologist who gets called in when the oil company accidentally digs up what appears to be a fossilized skeleton. Kim's efforts to process what appears to be the biggest find of her career are sabotaged at every turn, especially when another scientist is at the scene first. Kim puts two and two together and figures out that Sebastien Bythell, the other scientist, is up to no good and has a secret agenda. That conclusion turns out to be the understatement of the millennium, but we'll get to that in a minute.

After the skeleton is exposed and the area around it is more fully explored, a bunch of mysterious events that appear to be unrelated all happen pretty much at once- there's a killing spree at the local meatpacking plant, a bunch of townspeople fall sick with a mysterious illness, and Alice and Jamie go to visit their new neighbors, whose leader happens to be the mysterious Dr. Bythell. From there, literally, all hell breaks loose, as we find out that this mysterious disease that everyone is getting is way more dangerous than anyone anticipated, and that the strangers in town are out for far more than a good time.

The creatures in this book are horrific all on their own. This story is constantly evolving, and just when I thought I had things figured out, the plot took off in a direction that I fully acknowledge I never saw coming. Several familiar threads were woven together- the band of survivors trying to outlast a nightmarish ordeal where they get picked off, one by one; the creature feature with lots of roaring and screeching and bloodthirsty violence; the crime drama, where horrific events of the past are uncovered and their implications revealed at really, really inconvenient times. Each added a layer of nuance to the story that made the overall reading experience more skin-crawlingly intense.

What impressed me most, though, were the more subtle, but still horrific elements that were infused into the story. The bullying that Patrick was subjected to at the meatpacking plant made my skin crawl; the side plot regarding Kim and the diagnosis of skin cancer that she received was bleak, since she could survive the horrors of this ordeal only to die in six months from something else. I could go on and on and on listing all the different things that worked for me about this story, but I'll leave it up to you to read the book and enjoy the creepiness for yourself.

Overall Grade: A
Blog With Bite Rating: 4/4


MamaTink said...

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Michael F Stewart said...

Wow, Emily! This is very encouraging. Thank you so much for the review!

I guess I should start writing where the epilogue leaves off?!