Book Report: Our highly scientific analysis of a book, from the characters to the writing style to the swoon. See More...

Watch The Tide

Kayla Olson’s The Sandcastle Empire doesn’t bring anything new to the dystopian genre, but it’s not not entertaining.

Watch The Tide

BOOK REPORT for The Sandcastle Empire by Kayla Olson

Cover Story: Radioactive
BFF Charm: Meh
Swoonworthy Scale: 4
Talky Talk: Too-Familiar Dystopia
Bonus Factor: Mysterious Island
Factor: Mysterious Lonerish Dudes
Relationship Status: Missed Connection

Cover Story: Radioactive

That green glow is NOT normal, y’all.

The Deal:

Eden used to live a charmed life. Until the day the Wolfpack decided enough was enough, and overthrew governments across the world, placing themselves in power and the wealthy and well-off in work camps to support the revolution.

But Eden knows of a sanctuary island that most have written off as pure myth, thanks to her late father, who left her clues in an old field guide. When she and a few unlikely compatriots make it to the island, however, they soon learn that Sanctuary is not all it’s cracked up to be.

BFF Charm: Meh

I had a soft spot for Eden even before starting this book thanks to the fact that my only niece is named Eden, and she’s awesome. However, the Eden in The Sandcastle Empire isn’t nearly as awesome as my niece, or at least I didn’t really get to see her awesomeness shine through in the book. I applaud her resilience and dedication to the memory of her father, and her willingness to put faith in something that could turn out to be nothing more than a bunch of brainstorm notes. But I never really got a feel for the girl behind the actions, and nothing about her character is going to stick with me.

Swoonworthy Scale: 4

When Eden first reaches Sanctuary, she and her three friends (of circumstance) think they’re alone on the island. When a boat appears offshore and three fit young gentlemen disembark, they realize that they are not. Of course, the three fit young gentlemen aren’t all that forthcoming to begin with, but Eden works her way into the confidence of one of them in particular. Although their time together is swoon-adjacent, I can’t help but feel like it all happens a bit too fast.

Talky Talk: Too-Familiar Dystopia

At the start, The Sandcastle Empire seemed like it was going to be a breath of fresh air in an otherwise smog-clouded, radiation-tained dystopian genre. (As much as I love dystopian books, we all have to admit that there’s a lot of them, and it’s rare these days for one to really shine.) But as the story progressed, and the plot pieces fell into place, I found myself thinking that I’d read it all before. The novel’s world-building was underdeveloped, and the characters flat; their actions were explained, but there was a lack of depth to their choices that lessened the tension the book should have had. After all’s said and done, I feel like I read the book equivalent of a SyFy movie of the week: It was fun while it lasted, but it’s not going to stick with me.

Bonus Factor: Mysterious Island

Sanctuary Island is a really creepy place for all its supposed good aspects. For one, it’s in the Bermuda Triangle. For two, there are vines on the island that make you hallucinate one of your favorite memories then twist it into a nightmare. Definitely not adding Sanctuary to my list of potential vacation spots, and I highly doubt Sandals will open a resort on it any time soon.

Factor: Mysterious Lonerish Dudes

I’d typically have this as a Bonus Factor, but the guys Eden meets on the island are super one-dimensional. Are they mysterious dudes who don’t seem to really want to hang out with anyone? Yes. But do they have the je ne sais quoi that truly makes an MLD, a MLD? Not really.

Casting Call:

Kaya Scodelario as Eden

Relationship Status: Missed Connection

As excited as I was to get together, Book—I’d heard great things from mutual friends—we just didn’t click. I don’t regret the experience, but I’m not going to remember it years from now, either.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from HarperTeen, but got neither a private dance party with Tom Hiddleston nor money in exchange for this review. The Sandcastle Empire is available now.

Mandy Curtis's photo About the Author: Mandy is a small town girl living in a nerdy world, or—if you want to get literal—an editor/writer living in Austin, TX. In addition to yearning for YA books—the more dystopian or fantastical, the better—she can also be found swooning over superheroes, dreaming of The Doctor and grinning at GIFs.
K