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The Sandcastle Empire

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When all hope is gone, how do you survive?

Before the war, Eden’s life was easy—air conditioning, ice cream, long days at the beach. Then the revolution happened, and everything changed.

Now a powerful group called the Wolfpack controls the earth and its resources. Eden has lost everything to them. They killed her family and her friends, destroyed her home, and imprisoned her. But Eden refuses to die by their hands. She knows the coordinates to the only neutral ground left in the world, a place called Sanctuary Island, and she is desperate to escape to its shores.

Eden finally reaches the island and meets others resistant to the Wolves. But their solace is short-lived when one of Eden’s new friends goes missing. Braving the jungle in search of their lost ally, they quickly discover Sanctuary is filled with lethal traps and an enemy they never expected.

This island might be deadlier than the world Eden left behind, but surviving it is the only thing that stands between her and freedom.

464 pages, Hardcover

First published June 6, 2017

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About the author

Kayla Olson

20 books390 followers
Kayla Olson lives in Texas, and can usually be found in near proximity to black coffee, the darkest chocolate, Scrivener, and an army of Zebra mildliners.

THE SANDCASTLE EMPIRE has been translated into 14 languages—for more specifics on where to buy in France, Turkey, Spain (Spanish and Catalan), Romania, Denmark, Brazil, Serbia, Poland, China, Taiwan, Czech Republic, Russia, and Germany, please visit www.kaylaolson.com

Social media:
Twitter: @olsonkayla
Facebook: @authorkaylaolson
Blog: olsonkayla.wordpress.com

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5 stars
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923 (32%)
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101 (3%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 625 reviews
Profile Image for Elle (ellexamines).
1,084 reviews17.5k followers
September 27, 2018
I'm really sad I hated this book so much when pages 1-100 were SO GOOD. I don't think I've ever gone from loving to hating a book so fast.

The Sandcastle Empire originally pulled me in with - and I'm not trying to joke about this - a completely awesome opening. We begin on a beach where Eden is waiting to execute her escape plan. Shit gets real very fast and Eden encounters Alexa, Hope, and Finnley. Both Eden and Alexa felt like characters with a lot of potential. There was a bit of infodumping, yes, but Kayla Olson creates a picture of an intriguing world. I was absolutely hyped to continue.

Unfortunately, that beginning went completely to waste. This devolved into one of the messiest plots I've ever read in my life, with an added dose of instalove and no character development whatsoever.

WORLDBUILDING: I feel like I should give points for effort here, but oh man, it was not good. The existence of the Wolfpack feels arbitrary, and it's not made clear exactly how much of the world they've taken over. Look, dystopia authors, I know you're cool and all, but here's some advice: America is not the only place that exists. And then there's the whole environmental theme. It's a great idea, but the execution is painfully mediocre. Somewhere in this novel, Olson had something to say about environmentalism and corporate greed. It's just not done well. After a while, the themes got lost in the sea of plot detail.

ROMANCE: Oh boy. The two characters have no chemistry; they just get together because the author wants them to. They also get together far too early in their relationship, which takes any possible tension out of their interactions. Not that there was any; instalove ruins everything yet again. I also felt really annoyed that all the girl characters were reduced to their relationships with their boyfriends.

CHARACTERS: Oh, this made for a nice transition, didn't it? Alexa and Eden both turn into generic stock characters who are obsessed with their boyfriends. I hate it when characters have no motivations, and these characters certainly did not. Hope, Finnley, and Lonan don't even pretend to have solid characters. Everyone is a stock character.


Oh yes, the plot. Well, there was one. I think? Maybe? It's there, and I'm sure it's what will get this novel a fanbase. But it's really so messy and confusing.

The major problem with the action scenes is that everything revolves around setting, and the setting isn't described clearly. There's a lodge, and a lake, and a cave, and some kind of tree. The book didn't describe where they are in relation to each other, it's just kind of assumed that we Get It Already. I didn't understand anything about the setting, which made the plot seem even weirder. If the setting had been depicted well, I think I might have enjoyed this for a tropey-yet-atmospheric-and-exciting read. This could've been the next Caraval.

The plot also felt completely manufactured and convoluted. I really think half of it was pulled straight out of a sci-fi film without anyone, including the author, thinking through what actually made sense. You could've cut over half this novel out and the ending would be the same. I am completely serious; the entire section from when the girls got to the island to when the Generic Hot Guys showed up could've been cut. This is partially because of the lack of character-driven action. These characters' plans changed at the drop of a hat. It's hard to get invested in a plot when it's so obvious that the author was pulling the strings.

The writing style is good, but it's too subdued to hold the action. Eden's interlude chapters were well-written and somewhat intriguing as well, but they really weren't addressed in the book itself.

VERDICT: I'm really sad I didn't enjoy this, especially when the beginning was so good. Not recommended.
Profile Image for Korrina  (OwlCrate).
193 reviews4,554 followers
April 22, 2017
This book kept me up all night with a fast-beating heart. It had so many twists, turns, secrets, scares, and romantic moments. I don't want to give anything away, because I think it's best to go into this book blind. If you liked LOST, you'll definitely love this book. I predict that it will be the next big dystopian novel!
Profile Image for Heather.
390 reviews16.8k followers
January 1, 2018
This book is insane. It starts off as an awesome dystopian and first 100 pages were amazing but it quickly changes from there and becomes sci-fi. Now that's not a bad thing at all but it just got so confusing, SO CONFUSING!
I may be the only one who feels like this way but I understood the basis of the story but things just kept changing quickly, so many new characters were introduced and there was so much scientific jargon.
I did enjoy the writing, it was beautiful.I also enjoyed our main character, Eden. She was definitely someone you wanted to root for. I also enjoyed the survival element of the story on this island a lot!

Overall I found this book to be ok. I went into it thinking it was a dystopian,which is kind of is but it def. veers off more to the intense science part of sci-fi.

Profile Image for Laura.
425 reviews1,245 followers
July 24, 2017
The fire pops, hisses. War is like this: consuming, ravenous, feeding and feeding until there’s nothing left to take and all that’s left is ash.

YA dystopians can be pretty hard to resist and the concept for this one intrigued me. It doesn't hurt that it had already gotten optioned for film prior to release, so I figured there must be something special here. And the comparisons to the TV show Lost didn't hurt one bit. I didn't particularly care for the turn the plot takes later in the book and the romance feels forced for the sake of YA needing romance. However I really loved the concept and survival aspect to the story. I didn't even mind the weirdness on the island because anything that feels like a Lost connection is fine by me.

Alright, let's get into the plot. Set in 2055, the world is in the middle of a war. In the midst of environmental disasters and social upheaval, the Wolves have taken over. They control everything. And for Eden, they've taken everything. They killed her family, friends, and now she has nothing left except for a ring on a string, a tattered yellow book, and a vial of teeth and blood (souvenirs from a prior life). Eden is with the work camp she lives in and plans to escape. But where do you escape to when the Wolves control the entire planet?

Sanctuary Island is possibly the only neutral territory left. Some say it is a myth, but Eden doesn't care. It is her only hope at survival.

Now it is hard to really discuss the plot any further without spoilers. I will say that what starts as just a dystopian survival story ventures into more extreme sci-fi territory than even I was expecting. And I'm not just talking about the futuristic technology that's present. It's not bad by any means, just not exactly what I was hoping for. These plot twists caused me to begin losing interest. Other than that, the twists involving characters were fun, though predictable.

There are things I really loved in these pages, especially the futuristic world. I wish the author went a different route with some of the plotting, so I could say I enjoyed this more. I'm curious where the sequel would go.
Profile Image for megs_bookrack.
1,543 reviews9,856 followers
July 29, 2019
**2.5-stars rounded up**

I received The Sandcastle Empire in one of my OwlCrate boxes. I loved the cover and the premise sounded promising. Overall, it sadly fell a little flat for me.

I found the dialogue, especially toward the beginning, to be quite childish. The four main girls seemed to use the phrase, "hey guys" every time they spoke to one another; slight exaggeration here but still enough for me to notice and cringe EVERY TIME.

It also dragged in some places and then in others, to not be enough. The last 30-pages seemed so rushed just when we were getting some answers.

I believe this is a standalone but I think the author could definitely write another whole book based on where it left off. I did enjoy parts of this, particularly the structure of the chapters; there were a few short, poetic chapters that were a nice, unique touch!
Profile Image for Sarah Elizabeth.
4,729 reviews1,279 followers
May 21, 2017
(I received an advance copy of this book for free. Thanks to HarperCollins and Edelweiss.)

“I have to believe in something.” I dare to meet her eyes. “And I think you do, too. No one runs with that much conviction unless they know what they’re running toward.”

This was a YA dystopian story set during a world war.

The characters in this were okay, and I felt quite sorry for them that they were stuck in a war zone and had had everything taken from them. I did find it quite hard to connect with them though.

The storyline in this started off with Eden and 3 other girls escaping from where they were being held prisoner, and taking a boat to a weird island that could only be seen from certain angles. They then wandered round for a bit looking for water, and then some boys arrived on the island, and they decided to follow them around. They then spent some time looking for a lab and going over some bridges, but I lost interest around the time when the boys arrived, and I struggled to keep reading.

The ending to this was okay, but I had really lost interest by that point.

6 out of 10
Profile Image for Anna Priemaza.
Author 3 books184 followers
June 18, 2016
I devoured this book and loved every last second of it! From the very first chapter, when Eden stands on a boardwalk near a mine-littered beach, planning to make a break for it and escape the Wolves who stand guard, the story grabbed hold of me and didn't let go until the very end.

The main character, Eden, was the perfect mix of strong/bad-ass and flawed/scarred to make her super loveable, the secondary characters all popped out of the page, and the entire book was an action-packed, non-stop page-turner set in a cool (but terrifying) slightly futuristic world that combined nature and technology.

What really blew me away about THE SANDCASTLE EMPIRE, though, was the writing. It's rare to find a book that’s action-packed and riveting, that also boasts gorgeous writing, but TSE excels at both. With lines like “It's so cold the stars start to look like shards of ice that have chipped from the iceberg moon,” and “Death starts like this: hope dies first,” the writing regularly took my breath away. The writing was somehow consistently contemplative and poetic, without ever slowing down the can't-put-it-down pace.

The combination of the action-packed story, loveable characters, and gorgeous writing made me absolutely adore this book. I can't recommend it enough.
Profile Image for Aila.
911 reviews32 followers
July 1, 2017
It’s A Game Of Survival With Questionable World-Building

This review will be posted on Happy Indulgence

Apparently this book has been optioned for film, which I believe is a waste of time after finishing it. The Sandcastle Empire unfortunately rubbed me in all the wrong ways, and I wouldn’t really recommend it to readers looking for something with substance. The only thing it has going is the story of survival and each characters’ intense desire to keep living. The non-stop action does a good job in keeping a reader’s adrenaline going, but with such a superficial foundation for the plot and world, there’s no basis to enjoy it at all. I never felt scared for the characters dying or anything, mainly because I didn’t care for any of them. Instead of slowly figuring out the mysteries that the characters are caught up in, readers are given the information through dialogue and explanations. Finally, I found the world extremely uncomfortable to read about and all I can say is that it just wasn’t my style.

The book immediately starts with an info-dump from the first person perspective of Eden, who escapes from an island that kept her prisoner for the past years after Zero Day, when the Wolves first rose to power. This info-dump is 10% of my copy – trust me, that’s not the last info-dump we’ll be given. Eden and other girl survivors steal a small boat and set out to a place called Sanctuary Island, where she believes they will be safe from the hegemony of the Wolves. When they land on the islands, however, they suddenly discover that things aren’t quite what they seem.

From the very beginning, I was already wary of the voice that Eden presents. Throughout the book, she speaks of survival in metaphors and the importance of it. It wasn’t until I discovered more of the world, however, when I became uncomfortable. The basis is this: the Wolfpack started out as a trend, a hashtag, a fandom. But suddenly the movement blew up and the people fighting for their rights are at the top of the ladder now. The Wolves were the poor and oppressed, the people who society ignores the frustrations and calls of. When they rose to power, they turned the tides and suddenly privileged people are becoming prisoners – including Eden. I’m not sure why the Wolves are called that as well because they’re just people who wanted more rights for themselves.

Okay, this storyline is obviously controversial and to each their own (why no one ever mentioned this particular aspect of the book, I don't know.). But what made this an ill read for me was that there was no nuance or discussion to the whole background. Olson writes antagonists that are cut black-and-white. Eden’s voice is right, the people who took her prisoner are wrong. Eden has suffered so much, and so has all the other prisoners. The Wolves are clearly in the wrong. The book gives no depth into how the oppressed must have felt before they took over. What were their motives, their passions for turning families against each other? It’s explained so clear and dry and vague that I couldn’t wrap my head around it at all.

“They’re so lauded by their own for breaking the cycle of privilege in power, people don’t realize they’ve simply traded one broken thing for another.
Power takes like blood to the Wolves, and one drop isn’t enough.”

Eden’s voice basically goes like this: “the Wolves were oppressed but who cares about that because now they’re doing the controlling.” This kind of narrative really disturbs me because it’s excusing the way she and others like her treated the Wolves in the first place. All Eden cares about is fighting against the Wolves and surviving herself – but when does this cycle end? There is no thought, no depth to this convoluted world. She never thinks about society’s past actions and how they could have stopped this uprising, and the differences between the oppressed before and the oppressed now. The thoughts and story that take place are so extremely superficial. Among this major event are also some natural disasters (the book takes place around 2055) and exploitation of technology. The book never goes depth into how the economy is like where around the world the Wolves have influence (all it mentions is that the banks are useless). Where is the government? The only semblance of reigning group against the Wolves is called the Alliance. Who are these people and what gives them the jurisdiction to “go against” the Wolves? How are they getting money for funding (plot point) if the Wolves, and their corporate counterparts, have taken over? How did a resistance initially going for the poor and oppressed eventually become dominated by a corporation? There is also your obligatory resistance group called the Resistance because, well, it’s a dystopia. If technology is so nice, yachts and holograms are used, why aren’t there phones and why do the characters use radios instead?

The thing about setting a dystopia so close to modern day is that there are so many things to consider and resolve, and Olson does neither of those. The author chooses the easy path instead and picks and chooses things to use at whatever contributes the most to the atmosphere of the book: radios because the characters are trying to survive in a jungle on the island, holograms because it’s easy to casually dismiss that, etc. Obviously suspension of belief is needed for a sci-fi story, but this book just takes it too far for me with no explanation nor justification of the events that happen. Oh, and apparently the “third world” countries start gaining in power because of all the humanitarian aid America sent HAHA okay thanks for that, book.

So now Eden and three other girls are trapped on an island where traps and illusions run rampant. Suddenly the group adds three other boys as well. The only POC is Alexa, an Asian girl (where in Asia? Who knows) that’s a Wolf gone rogue. While the author had a chance to explore the reasoning behind the Wolves’ actions to rebel and instill hegemony through the perspective of one, she chooses not to. Instead, Alexa is caustic and selfish. She does not grow that much by the end of the book, remaining an annoying and frustrating character throughout. The reason of her going rogue revolves around a – gasp – BOY of all things. Hope and Finnley are the other girls and are as bland as white bread (and share similar features too). They basically lose a role in the latter half of the book.

“Choose, Eden: choose, choose.
Humanity is not wired to choose death.
Not our own deaths, anyway.
So I choose life. And the irony is, it doesn’t feel any different.”

Instead of following Eden on discovering the secrets of the island and the survival book her father left her, readers are left seeing them go through hallucinations and broken bridges. It’s a book that targets survival, with cliché dystopian elements instilled as well. The climax of the book is literally an info-dump all over again. All that information Eden and her friends never discovered on the island? Handed through dialogue. None of the characters had dimension – they’re ALL the “good guys” and the only reason why one of them could act out is because of mind control (wow, so original!). If you asked me to describe the boys in their group, my mind would fizzle out because all I could remember were their different hair colors. The weak world-building and characterization essentially marks this only as a “survival” read that will pump adrenaline through readers. Other than that, the “twists” are just overused tropes that follow the path of the usual dystopian novel.

I’m sorry to say this book wasn’t my cup of tea. Forget that, it wasn’t my type of cup, let alone tea. I had so many problems with the world that failed to deliver on nuance and discussion despite its controversial foundation. Oh, did I say foundation? There is such a flimsy one, the questions in this review could have unraveled them with a snap. I’m usually all about science fiction and the dangers (especially environmentally) of actions, but this book gives absolutely no message on these aspects. I honestly thought there would be a good discussion on how we should treat the environment better because of the way the natural disasters, but there isn’t. The characters are very shallow and other than their intensity for survival, are basically cardboard cutouts. Who fall in love easily despite everything going around them. For a good science fiction-dystopia story with better integration of the environment in its world (AND with diverse characters), I would recommend Want by Cindy Pon (my review is here). For another typical YA dystopia with a poorly imagine world and black-and-white reasoning and characters? This one could work.
Profile Image for Tink Magoo is bad at reviews.
1,249 reviews194 followers
March 13, 2017
As a survival story - 5 stars
As a dystopian/futuristic corporate run society story - 2 stars
As a standalone with a resolved ending - 1 star
As the first part of a series or duo - 3.5 stars

"The enemy wore sheep's clothes for many years before it bared it's fangs and went for blood. Fathers. Brothers. The barista who your daily latte, the guy behind the fish counter at the grocery store, the girl in Sephora who taught you how to line your eyes. All seemingly unconnected, until one day they were a force."

It's hard to review this one because firstly, I have no idea how to describe it - dystopian/survival with power hungry corporation bad guys + a side of romance, maybe and secondly because my rating largely depends on whether there will be a second book.

The majority of this revolves around the group's survival on an island, with the underlying plot starting at around 32%. It's this 'plot' that I can't decide on.

The first 60% of the story I really enjoyed which is largely their setting up on the island, finding things to survive and looking for the sanctuary. Past that point, it started to drag a bit. The romance is kind of irrelevant as I never felt any connection because there was too much going on around them. And though you can say the plot point was achieved, it ended too openly for a standalone book.

If there isn't going to be a follow-up I think my rating would be lower because tings aren't wrapped up well. There were just too many different things mashed together for it to work as a whole in my opinion. If you take away the coroprate aspect and focus on the dystopian/ survival aspect then this would be a 5 star read for me.

"War is like this : consuming, ravenous, feeding and feeding until there's nothing left to take and all that's left is ash."

"Survival is born as much from fear as it is from bravery."

No one is more surprised than I am that my hand fits so well in someone else's."

Profile Image for Emily Murphy.
Author 3 books398 followers
September 8, 2016
"No one ever prepared me for hope to be so tangled with fear."

And this book is flush with both, in the best possible way.

First of all--the writing. The prose is beautiful. Olson's words shimmer like the lush jungle setting she's created, and the plot slithers, curves, and strikes. I loved the descriptions--gorgeous lines like "trees [are in] all shades of green until shadows stain them black." The main character, Eden, takes this book beyond simply boasting a killer plot--which it does in spades--to something deeper with her poignant, piercing insights. This book has everything: adventure, suspense, stunning writing, twists and turns, inventive futuristic science and technology elements, and complex characters with shifting motives--not to mention several passages that pulled hard on my heart strings.

SANDCASTLE EMPIRE is a striking look at people pushed to their psychological and moral limits as the world edges closer to its physical ones; an elegantly written thriller, and an instant classic that I couldn't put down.

Profile Image for Monica.
527 reviews163 followers
November 9, 2017
As one summary listed, this book could be described as a cross between The Maze Runner and the TV series "Lost". I would add Lord of the Flies or The 100. Very descriptive writing with a semi-original plot. There is a nice balance of plot twists and compromised characters to keep the story interesting. The love interest/story seemed a bit immature for teenagers; that may be keeping to the dystopian theme and lack of relationship experience. Although I'm accustomed to short chapters in YA novels, the chapter breaks made the book feel rather disjointed. Overall, I felt it had potential but just didn't keep the momentum... I would read a sequel as every story deserves a second chance!
Profile Image for ᒪᗴᗩᕼ .
1,499 reviews147 followers
December 2, 2017
If only the story could have lived up to that beautiful cover.


⇝Ratings Breakdown⇜

Plot: 3.5/5
Main Characters: 3.7/5
Secondary Characters: 3.2/5
The Feels: 3/5
Pacing: 3/5
Addictiveness: 4/5
Theme or Tone: 4/5
Flow (Writing Style): 3.5/5
Backdrop (World Building): 4/5
Originality: 4/5
Book Cover: 5+/5
Narration: 5/5
Ending: 3.8/5 Cliffhanger: Nope.
Steam Factor 0-5: 1
Narration: Andi Arndt
Setting: A Mysterious Island
Source: Audiobook (Library)

Total: 3.5/5 STARS - GRADE=B-

⇝My Thoughts⇜

The Sandcastle Empire was both languid and quick moving. Sort of like everything is draped in a heavy fog. The writing and Andi Arndt's narration gave most of the book this warm, fluid, and free-flowing feel. Until an action scene and then I found it difficult to keep up and comprehend the quickness of them. The dystopian world that this depicts has the potential to be so complex but isn't really fleshed out enough and neither were the characters, unfortunately. Mostly, it just left me feeling like I wanted more than what I got.

I've read that this is being made into a movie…it's possible, with the LOST-like island and its many pitfalls, that it might do well on the screen.

Will I read more from this Author This is her debut, I believe, so I might. Especially, if they have such breathtaking covers…they pull me in every time.

Profile Image for Anna.
207 reviews35 followers
June 26, 2017
The writing in this book was incredible!! I'm shook. It was confusing (in a good way), and I was so invested in this story and its characters that I had trouble putting it down!! Highly recommended- it's definitely a new favorite. :)

"The enemy wore sheep's clothes for many years before it bared its fangs and went for blood. Fathers. Brothers. The barista who made your daily latte, the guy behind the fish counter at the grocery store, the girl in Sephora who taught you how to line your eyes. All seemingly unconnected, until one day they were a force."
Profile Image for Gwen Cole.
Author 7 books207 followers
February 9, 2017
The writing in this book is just so fantastic and captivating, and along with the amazing imagery, you'll be transported into this world where nobody is safe. An excellent debut to start off the new year, hitting shelves this June!
Profile Image for Shannon (It Starts At Midnight).
1,150 reviews1,008 followers
June 21, 2017
You can find the full review and all the fancy and/or randomness that accompanies it at It Starts at Midnight


I liked a lot of things about this book, but there was one pretty significant thing that dampened my excitement. But, let's talk positives first!

The Good:

loved the plot! I was constantly kept guessing as to what on earth was going on in this world- and how it could be fixed. I didn't see any of the twists coming (except one or two minor things) and was incredibly eager to know the outcome.
Eden was an awesome character. While I wasn't quite as connected to her as I wanted to be, I felt for her certainly, and admired her bravery and courage trying to get herself (and then her friends) out of a really awful situation.
Survival is one of my favorite book plots, and this one had lots of survival happening. Plus, it was survival on an island, and the atmosphere was incredible! I loved the sinister island feel, and the author did a great job of making me feel like I couldn't trust anyone or anything.
The story moved at a great pace, I was constantly excited by the story and the unfolding of the plot and world building.

The One Thing I Didn't Like:

It seemed really not okay that people of a lower socioeconomic class were the villains just because they were salty at rich people. I felt really uncomfortable with that message, and I strongly hope there's more explanation (or an outright debunking of this) in the sequel. I think this could have been at least a 4.5* for me, as I really loved most of  the book, but this really just didn't sit well with me, and I had to adjust accordingly. Especially considering our current social and political climates, it was off-putting.

Bottom Line: Overall, a really solid book. I loved the plot and the action of the book, I just wish that the reason behind the war hadn't been "because poor people". It left a bad taste in an otherwise enjoyable book.

*Copy provided by publisher for review
Profile Image for Anatea Oroz.
302 reviews515 followers
January 1, 2019
It has been so long since I've read a dystopian book, and I have to say, I've been really missing the genre. I always get so excited when I am finding out about the post-apocalyptic world and how the things are, who is in charge and what's there left of the normal world.

The Sandcastle Empire had a pretty slow beginning and only at around 30% did it really pick up in speed. After that, the action was full on. We started finding out what is happening on that island, what is happening in the world, and what is happening with the characters. I loved every minute of this book.

The only thing I wish was done differently is the romance. I loved Lonan and Eden, I just felt their relationship wasn't explored to the full potential.

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Profile Image for Alyssa.
1,069 reviews839 followers
October 5, 2017
3.5 stars. To round up or to round down... this book is excellent and I'm not disappointed or anything - just feeling kind of meh, after finishing? Strong start, blah end, that kind of thing.

***Review posted on The Eater of Books! blog***

The Sandcastle Empire by Kayla Olson
Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication Date: June 6, 2017
Rating: 3 stars
Source: eARC from Edelweiss

Summary (from Goodreads):

When all hope is gone, how do you survive?

Before the war, Eden’s life was easy—air conditioning, ice cream, long days at the beach. Then the revolution happened, and everything changed.

Now a powerful group called the Wolfpack controls the earth and its resources. Eden has lost everything to them. They killed her family and her friends, destroyed her home, and imprisoned her. But Eden refuses to die by their hands. She knows the coordinates to the only neutral ground left in the world, a place called Sanctuary Island, and she is desperate to escape to its shores.

Eden finally reaches the island and meets others resistant to the Wolves—but the solace is short-lived when one of Eden’s new friends goes missing. Braving the jungle in search of their lost ally, they quickly discover Sanctuary is filled with lethal traps and an enemy they never expected.

This island might be deadlier than the world Eden left behind, but surviving it is the only thing that stands between her and freedom.

What I Liked:

I haven't really been following the massive amounts of debut novels that have published and will be published this year, but this is one of the few that I had been really looking forward to reading. I'm an environmental engineering student and as soon as I came across this book, and heard how deeply rooted the story was in environmental themes, I knew I had to have it. You know it has to be pretty scientific and environment-focused if Leonardo DiCaprio will be producing its film. While I enjoyed this book and I don't not recommend it, I didn't love it like I had expected. Still, this is an interesting novel and I definitely think it should be discussed, especially given these times we live in.

It has been years since Eden was orphaned. It's been years since she lived a normal life, before the war, before the Wolves took over and ceased control and instilled such potent fear in the lives of survivors. For two years, Eden has been biding her time, waiting for the perfect opportunity to escape - and it comes. Eden escapes with three girls who are strangers to her. They reach an island - the island, according to Eden's father's field guide. Eden's father knew of Sanctuary, an island of neutral ground, and Eden and the girls have found it. But the island isn't what it seems, with its treacherous terrain and creepy plants. They're alone, but are they? With the arrival of three boys come answers, but even more questions. Nothing about Sanctuary Island is what Eden - or anyone - expected.

This story is such an interesting one to classify. It's definitely post-apocalyptic, given that things really started because of rising sea levels, contaminated drinking water, and other effects of climate change. The Wolves began a bloody revolution after Envirotech, a company with cutting edge technology, prioritized the rich people who could pay for their products. Purified water, for example, and admission to a paradise-like island. The Wolves sought justice, being those less fortunate that would never be able to afford what Envirotech offered. The story is also obviously science fiction, given that the themes are heavily scientific. And dystopia too, because of the militaristic rule of the Wolves. It's an intriguing and terrifying mix of genres, that make up a rather realistic story.

I am totally here for the science! You don't see a lot of YA books delve into climate change and the deadly cause-and-effect feedback loop that occurs. Everything about this story occurs because of climate change; the need for purified drinking water spurred on the rise of Envirotech, which caused the disparity between the rich and the poor to become more pronounced, which led to the rise of the Wolfpack, which led to the rebellion and revolution. Climate change is an immense catalyst of this story, and as scary as climate change is, I was so happy to see its presence in the story. YA books could benefit from including such a real and very present danger in our world today.

This book is written entirely in Eden's first-person POV. In the first chapter or so, Eden is preparing to escape once and for all. And she does, with a lot of luck (it seemed lucky). She and three other girls hightail it by sailboat, and find Sanctuary. Eden has known that Sanctuary is not a myth for years, since her father's field guide notebook was returned to her. The field guide saves Eden and the girls as they explore the island. Eden's father was an engineer who was responsible for a lot of things relating to the revolution - though the revolution was in no way his fault.

I liked Eden, though it took me a bit to fully latch onto her character and care about her. She has quiet strength and the spirit of a survivor. She has many fears that she tries to overcome in this book. That is something that I really liked about this book and this character - the author explicitly states Eden's fear (for example, snakes and dark water), and the author has Eden face each of them.

There are three other girls that escape with Eden (by chance) - Alexa, Finnley, and Hope. I didn't really care for Finnley from the start, though I didn't hate her either. Alexa came off as self-absorbed and haughty, but I actually liked her despite these qualities, and as the story went on, I grew to like and respect her even more. I liked Hope, with her kindness and sweetness.

Three boys join the girls on the island about a third or maybe two-fifths into the story. They arrive via ship and they are there for a reason. Cass seems like the leader, and he and Alexa happen to have a lot of history. My heart hurt for Alexa, with how Cass leaves their relationship. Phoenix is more of a periphery character, though he has his moments.

Lonan, however, becomes a very important character in the book. He holds many secrets, and he turns out to be a very critical player in the whole plot. He's not just a smart and charming boy with an easy smile - he has secrets upon secrets. I liked him immediately.

You can probably guess who is involved in the romance. I liked Lonan and Eden together. They are both leaders, though Lonan is more of an authoritative and commanding one, whereas Eden is a quiet one. They are a good match. I wanted to feel more for their chemistry (see below), but I do think they fit well together. I definitely wanted more Cass/Alexa. No love triangle, by the way!

Most of the story is set on the island, though the final thirty percent or so is set elsewhere. I don't want to say anything more about that, because it gets spoiler-y really quickly. But I will say that I liked the island setting a lot. The island was incredibly creepy and chilling. As soon as the group moved off the island, my interest waned a little. It just wasn't the same! I'll explain below.

What I Did Not Like:

Obviously, given how long my "Likes" section is, I enjoyed this book. And I'm not going to deny that. I liked the book, and I don't not recommend it. But I also didn't feel particularly strongly about some aspects.

For example, I wanted more chemistry between Lonan and Eden! Personality-wise, I think they are a good fit. But I didn't fall in love with them falling love. Or them falling in lust. Or whatever. They're teens on an island, depraved of all sorts of stimuli! How are they not constantly checking each other out? I expected more from Lonan and Eden in terms of chemistry. Where are the steamy kisses in warm natural pools of water, or whatever? The author could have done so much with the romance, especially in terms of the chemistry. The romance felt a bit lacking, because there was no tension between Lonan and Eden. I could feel their emotional connection (the two of them growing to trust and care about each other), but not their physical connection. They don't even kiss until the book is almost over!

Also, I wanted more from Cass and Alexa's relationship. The author could have done so much with that relationship! Second-chance romance, anyone? Some serious angst between the pair? Alexa has her fair share of angst and pain built up, but I wanted to see that spill over and interactions with Cass to be had. The two of them are like fire and ice - I wanted to see them ignite and explode!

Like I said above, I liked the island setting. Some scenes had me in chills. But once Eden and the gang encountered a certain thing on the island, and they eventually left the island, I just wasn't as interested. The big twist and the reveals probably didn't have the intended effect on me. And I was a little bored, after some of the big reveals. I didn't really care or follow what was the M.O. of Eden and her new friends (friends I have not mentioned yet). The last third of the book seemed sloppy and rushed, compared to the rest of the book.

Also, nothing felt really resolved, despite the fact that this book is currently listed as a standalone. I didn't like how certain aspects of the book (which I can't even mention specifically) aren't addressed in the end. I'll try to be vague - for example, something pretty serious is done to Lonan and the others (not Eden though). Is this taken care of? Is the related tech destroyed? Also, where will Eden and Lonan go - what are their plans, now that this and that have been taken care of? There is no epilogue of the two of them making out on a beach or something like that. Of course, the author could be leaving the ending in such a vague state in case a sequel (or more) is contracted. But it's annoying. The ending is wrapped up, but very vague and certain things are wrapped up in a way that is too vague and general and needed mores specifics and detail. Basically, the ending was too perfect in a vague way, but there were also things that were definitely not addressed.

Also, not a huge deal, but the title...? Someone explain the relevance of it to the story to me, please. I'm not trying to be snarky - I legitimately don't get it!

Would I Recommend It:

I actually highly recommend this book, especially to those like me who love science-y books in YA literature. This is not a pure dystopia novel, nor is it purely a post-apocalyptic novel, It has both of those genres/sub-genres mixed in, and a lot of environmental themes that are really important. Economic ones, too. I didn't totally love the book, but I recommend it because it's a relevant and important book that I think young adults should read. The issues discussed are incredibly real and we should be paying attention to them.


3.5 stars. I hesitate to round up because I really don't think I'm feeling a 4-star rating for this book. It's not that I didn't like it, it's that I didn't feel completely satisfied after finishing it. You know that feeling when you finish a book and you're like, "wow, that was great"? I didn't experience that, despite the fact that I do think it was a great book overall. If the author writes anything to follow this book, I will definitely read it!
Profile Image for Zenki the Pixie.
195 reviews100 followers
September 21, 2017
I carry my past wherever it fits: tucked in at my back, hanging from my neck, buried deep in my pocket. A tattered yellow book. A heavy ring on its heavy chain. A vial of blood and teeth.

Wow, honestly, I think almost all YA these days are amazing. I might find some small similarities here and there between different works but as an entire piece, each one is unique in itself. The ideas I come to encounter are just endless and the authors keep proving to be worthy artists, original, creative, and genuinely brilliant.
The enemy wore sheep's clothes for many years before it bared its fangs and went for blood. Fathers. Brothers.

I think the best prose have the perfect amount of poetry in it. Kayla Olson is one of those writers who lean in more to the poetic side. I found it lovely, from the beginning I enjoyed it. There were countless beautiful lines and the author made wonderful use of figurative language (the author is reaalllly fond of personification). But it reached to this point where I found the book too poetic. Not intolerably so, there really are plenty of great lines because of it, but enough to make me lose concentration and momentum for sure. That when narration mattered, such as the parts of strategy and action, there was artful singing and it's just not appropriate. There needs to be the perfect mix of emotion and plain details in the book, and though the details were there, the plain-ness which I think plays its part in story-telling, too, was missing.

Eden, the protagonist, was okay. She's the perfect mix of hateful and admirable, and the way she analyzes a character is amazing.

On the other hand, I didn't care much for the supporting characters at all. When , I didn't even care! Sorry :/

I don't understand some of the decisions the author made for the plot. Why did Lonan bring Finnley and Cass for their mission if they're compromised? To test the cure? They could have just brought one. And why after Lonan and Phoenix have undergone the procedure, they're still not careful? It's possible they're being monitored by Ava. I mean, I can just assume that Will is the one monitoring during those scenes but it had to be explained. Otherwise, it just doesn't make any sense. The plot is a tangled mess.
I've thought it myself, hundreds of times: when pieces of your heart are ripped away, it's easy to wish you'd never known what a whole heart felt like in the first place. But no one can deny a whole heart beats better than a broken one.

Despite the problematic plot, though, I found that the book has such strong reflections. The suspense was worthy and might have saved it. The elements of the setting were also unique, I think: the artificial water habitats, those haven-something water bottles, holo-wolves, the blood-hungry beetles, the itchy moss, the illusions, bloodlock technology...

It's a book about loss and survival. It's science fiction, about a war-torn Earth deeply damaged by climate changes and disaster, where the lower class fought and beat the elite, then imprisoned the families in gulags, making them their slaves. If this is your thing maybe you'd like it :)
Profile Image for Chelsies Reading Escape.
631 reviews362 followers
October 25, 2019
I won't lie to you the cover did make me hesitate to pick this up. It just doesnt appeal to me but the premise was something that really interested me, especially the deadly island part. The Lost TV Show vibe had me even more excited because I loved that show. I thought the mysteries of the island were thrilling and the technology was interesting. I love the concept of being stranded and needing to figure out how to survive.

Global warming has led to many natural disasters and a lack of clean water for people who cant afford it. When a new safe habitat is offered to the highest bidders a rebel group formed by the less fortunate population overthrow the people in power and send them to work camps while they take advantage of their new position of power. We start off when the main character and a group of girls run away from their work camp.

I liked how the main character deals with grief and moving on. I loved reading about her best friend Emma. Im not too sure what happened to her. It be awesome if we saw her in the sequel. I didnt think I was going to like the romantic interest at first but by the end I was totally on board with the romance. I also loved the dynamic within the group of girls. It was fun trying to figure out Alexa and Hope was the sweetest peacemaker.

The world was a little confusing in the beginning but I eventually got a better grasp on the world. I predicted the major twist early on but I liked how the author twisted the rebel trope on its head by making them the bad guys. I dont understand why the blood transfer couldnt be done some other time. As much as Id like all the characters to get a happily ever after Im happy the author went with the more realistic route.

I liked the short chapters but for some reason I wasnt as captivated for a small portion of the second half. I loved how the first half messed with my head in the best possible way. I plan on reading the sequel when it comes out but the ending was satisfying enough that I dont absoluetly crave it. If you like the show Lost than you should definitely enjoy this book. Id recommend it if your into scifi dystopians.

*received in exchange for an honest review*

Thank you so much Harper for the ARC
Profile Image for Carlie Sorosiak.
Author 8 books261 followers
September 22, 2016
Anything can happen to anyone, whether they deserve it or not.

You know when you pick up a book, you're two pages in, and you can visualize everything? When you immediately know a world like your own skin? That's The Sandcastle Empire. It's a deeply immersive experience, and I can absolutely see why the film rights got snatched up so quickly. Lost comparisons are totally accurate. This book really has everything: suspense, intrigue, futuristic (yet scarily realistic) technology, love, family, betrayal, plot twists... I could go on for days.

The writing is astoundingly good. Olson has a particular way of describing sky that perfectly captures the mood of each scene. I especially loved her descriptions of Birch, who I fell head-over-heels for, and also Lonan! The Sandcastle Empire has two boys. Two different, very attractive boys. I mean, honestly, that was enough for me, but let's add in suspense that makes the hairs stand up on your arms, and flashbacks of Before that are so beautiful, they knock you sideways.

I actually don't want to go too much into the plot, because there are so many cool scenes that I'd be afraid of spoiling a single thing. Instead, let me just say that Eden, the main character, is everything that I wanted her to be: sympathetic and kick-ass and smart. You're going to love her, too.

Above all, this book represents a deep exploration into the global effects of rising sea levels, and besides wanting to read it, I think we need to read it.

One of my top picks for 2017.

Profile Image for Jilly Gagnon.
Author 10 books262 followers
December 21, 2016
Oh my god, this book was CRACK.

Seriously, from the moment I started reading I was addicted to the story. Olson creates a world so vivid, so rich with detail, that it's almost impossible not to be sucked in almost immediately.

This is the kind of book where too many of my favorite moments are tied up in spoilers, but suffice it to say that I devoured the incredibly well-thought-out world, the fascinating, unique characters, and the all-too-plausible plot like a hungry...

...I'd say wolf, but yeah, no. ;)
Profile Image for Irene ➰.
508 reviews76 followers
August 14, 2017

"Your mind is stronger than your circumstances, Eden"

Another book with mixed feelings.
I thing that I have to recognize that this book never slows down a second. It's packed with action and events.
I loved the setting. The "deserted and safe" island that soon will be full of perils. I was so excited when I was reading the first part of how this little group of people arrives there and how they interact with the wild and try so hard to survive considering that what they left behind is even worse.
That part with the post apocalyptic/survival vibe was the best. It was a true adventure at the beginning, try to find water, try not to get killed by nature, all those wild bridges to cross, the tension in findind the place they were looking for...

Then things got a little confused. The story of how the Wolves were created was interesting but I still have some unanswered questions.
The most confusing part for me was all the holo-wolves concept and especially the cure-not-cure, I got lost there sometimes.
But especially I was so lost later in putting all those people in a place, I was so confused on where they were at some point, how much they moved... (if they ever moved lol).
Because of this I lost all the action of the finale, I was trying too hard to understand other more techical things.

I didn't like in general the finale as well, untill the very last pages I was asking myself if they were going to make it or not etc, you know the usual.
Then there was the little act that everyone was waiting for and *turns next page* CUT!
New chapter, completely different setting, everyone kinda cheering, WHAT HAPPENED?!
I mean... OK, you can guess what happened, but this book was so detailed in everything and in every action and every part was so well described at the beginning that was so strange seeing a jump in time like this.

Speaking of characters they were okay, nothing too unique and stuff, I liked that some chapters were dedicated to Eden's past but at the same time they weren't that detailed or with too many infos, it was like beeing in Eden's confused head, but I needed to understand something from those chapters too, so yeah, you basically need to put some pieces together by yourself...

Again if this book had continued with the island surviving concept I would have enjoyed this so much more because it could have been so scary and exciting, but the path that took didn't convince me.
Profile Image for K..
3,689 reviews1,007 followers
September 22, 2017
Trigger warnings: death of a parent, death of a friend, violence, war, blood, a weird amount of hypodermic needles.

This book was...IDEK, to be perfectly honest with you. The first hundred or so pages? Was super compelling. It was a fascinating world, I liked the protagonist, and the entire concept was intriguing.

And then it just got...weird? There was some bizarro Hunger Games style shit going on, where the characters were traipsing through a jungle full of booby traps and murderous insects and plants that can be neutralised with injections?? There was a shoehorned-in romance that totally didn't need to be there. And there was a lot of predictability.

So it started out really strongly and I was excited about where it was going. And then it tanked. Quite dramatically tanked. Straight down the slippery slope into being generic and forgettable. Sigh.
Profile Image for Meigan.
1,132 reviews68 followers
June 22, 2017
In Kayla Olson's cutthroat and dangerous new world, she provides a realistic portrayal of what could happen if global warming continues on its current path. The oceans have risen, eating land masses as dangerous water is wont to do, giving survivors very few options of where to live. Add to that, the divide between the privileged and underprivileged has reached a dangerous apex, and the poor have created a war, one that they're currently winning. Anyone viewed as upperclass prior to the Revolution is now on the very bottom of the chain, living in barracks and doing menial and backbreaking work to provide for the Wolves and their new, better lifestyle.

Eden is one such example: her father worked for a well-known global science corporation, a job that landed them in the lap of luxury, and all has since been taken away. After her father's death, all she's left with is a tube of his blood and teeth, and a cryptic journal that hints to an island that promises sanctuary for all those that manage to get there. Which isn't an easy task, being that the Wolves patrol the beaches 24/7 with weapons, and even the beach itself is loaded with land mines. Escape is futile for anyone under the rule of the Wolves, who are heartless, godless, and lawless. And the biggest problem is, everyone is under the rule of the Wolves and death really is the only escape in this harsh, new world.

While the crux of The Sandcastle Empire is truly survival, I loved how Olson wrapped her storyline around current events that affect us all - the toxicity of unchecked global warming, the ever-growing divide between the rich and the poor. Both of those themes truly added a realistic experience, making me believe it's really in the realm of possibilities. And while it's fun to read a fictionalized version, thinking it *could* happen added a horrific quality, one with claws and teeth that latched on and made me think.

There was also a ton of originality to this tale. The YA dystopian market, at times, seems overly saturated, making it difficult to find a story that's truly different than the rest. The Sandcastle Empire is a gem in a sea of rocks, and I adored it for that reason. What starts off as a survival story morphed quickly into a danger-laden science fiction tale, where no one can be trusted, and everyone is second-guessed. And the twists and turns made this a truly unpredictable story that will certainly stand out from the crowd.

All told, I loved this book. I loved the characters, I loved the storyline, I loved the danger and the realistic quality and the often hopeless feeling that oozed off the pages. And the best news, The Sandcastle Empire has already been optioned for a movie, and I've never been more excited for a book-to-movie in my life. Highly recommended, and I'll certainly be looking for any future books with Kayla Olson's name on it.
Profile Image for Rissa.
1,401 reviews48 followers
July 12, 2017
Survivor on steroids.

Taken from their homes and taken to the island guarded by the wovles until one day, today it had to be today Eden wouldnt have another chance like this... Eden and three others made it to the boat and set off to find the mysterious island an island that Edens dad talked about in the only thing Eden has to call her own. A survival book, filled with her dads notes and maps.
Will they make it to the mysterious island or will the ocean swallow them up or will they push one another over.
The girls are strangers and all want to survive they escaped but surviving another day another night will be much more difficult then dealing with the wolves daily.

I throughly enjoyed it! I love the girls personalities they are so developed in such a short period and the writing was very easy to read and gripping from the first page.

"Survival is born as much from fear as it is from bravery"
Profile Image for Lola Sharp.
99 reviews60 followers
August 4, 2016
Y'all, put this book on your Must Have list, because this book is special!! The plot is exciting & fast paced, the stakes high, and yet, on a prose level, the writing is GORGEOUS. Truly beautiful writing. I'm sincere when I say I loved this ms and Kayla is very talented and I expect Big Things in her future.
Profile Image for A.V. Geiger.
Author 4 books540 followers
December 30, 2016
Some books are worth reading because of gorgeous writing. Some because of a brilliantly original plot. Some because they challenge us to think critically about the world we live in... And then every once in a while, a book comes along that has all three of these rare qualities in equal measure. The Sandcastle Empire is one of those books. This one is special, folks. You don't want to miss it.
Profile Image for mith.
751 reviews259 followers
December 30, 2016
What a surprising book! I really enjoyed it and I'm hoping there's more to the story!
also, ALSO you should TOTALLY add this book because the writing is AMAZING and the story is BRILLIANT and i'm really excited for everyone to read this okay.
Profile Image for kaylaaaaaaaaaa kaylaaaaaaaaaa.
Author 1 book111 followers
April 9, 2018
I downloaded this book when it first came out last July and I didn't end up reading it until now, I wasn't impressed a lot with this book, it was an okay read but I wasn't 100% encaptured with the story.
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