Enter a world of simmering heat and shifting sands.
Where danger lies around every corner.
Where death lurks as night falls,
And you will kill – just to stay alive …
Outlines of several once-busy cities shimmer on the horizon. Now empty of inhabitants, their buildings lie in ruins. In the distance a group of people – a family – walk towards us. Ahead lies shelter: a ‘shuck’ the family call home and which they know they must reach before the light fails, as to be out after dark is to invite danger and almost certain death. To survive in this alien world of shifting sand, they must find an object hidden in or near water. But other families want it too. And they are willing to fight to the death to make it theirs.
It is beginning to rain in Fairfax County, Virginia when McKenzie Strathie wakes up. An ordinary teenage girl living an ordinary life – except that the previous night she found a sand-lizard in her bed, and now she’s beginning to question everything around her, especially who she really is …
Two very different worlds featuring a group of extraordinary characters driven to the very limit of their endurance in a place where only the strongest will survive.
THEO CLARE left school at fifteen. She worked as a barmaid, security guard, filmmaker, hostess in a Tokyo club, educational administrator and teacher of English as a foreign language in Asia. She had an MA in film from The American University in Washington, DC and an MA in creative writing from Bath Spa University, UK. She wrote crime novels under the name Mo Hayder, and her fifth novel Ritual was nominated for the Barry Award for Best Crime 2009 and was voted Best Book of 2008 by Publishers Weekly. Gone, her seventh novel, won the Edgar Allan Poe Award, and her novel Wolf was nominated for Best Novel in the 2015 Edgar Awards and is currently being adapted for the BBC.
Theo Clare was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in December 2020 and passed away in July 2021.
My thoughts: this is an incredibly moving, sad and beautiful book. It’s about family and love and death and what you would do for the people you care for. It mostly takes place in a seemingly endless desert filled with dead cities that resemble ones on Earth, haunted by djinni who suck the life from anyone they catch.
In this terrible place we follow Spider and his family as they scrabble to survive – searching for the mythical Sarkpoint, the vitally important thing they were gathered together to find. Only they don’t know what it is or where. And time is running out.
As the story unfolds and more details are revealed, we learn tiny bits of the characters lives before they came to be in the Cirque – as the desert is known, and they wait for their Scouts to return with clues to aid their desperate search.
A second narrative concerns McKenzie, who dreams of deserts and sees sand lizards in her Virginia bedroom – an impossibility. She tracks the weather and longs for answers to her dreams and hallucinations that feel so real.
I wanted to cry as the book neared its end, the desperation, the terrible losses they suffered, the heartbreak of Camel, the evil Elephant Family, the moments of joy. The writing is so powerful and knowing that this is the author’s last book, that she died in the summer, adds an element of melancholy to the story. Wonderful, lingering long after its final pages.
*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.