Monday, November 19, 2012

REVIEW: Red Sand / Ronan Cray

TITLE: Red Sand
AUTHOR: Ronan Cray
PUBLISHER: Self-Published
AVAILABILITY: Amazon US (paperback), Amazon US (Kindle e-book), Amazon UK (paperback), Amazon UK (Kindle e-book), Smashwords (multiple e-formats)

Recommended for fans of sci-fi horror and suspense, such as the TV show Lost


Red Sand is reminiscent of the TV show Lost in that it’s about shipwrecked survivors on a mysterious island. As in any good horror tale, the survivors are picked off one by one. Some of the deaths are quite gruesome, disturbing even. The story is wrapped in mysteries that are gradually revealed as the characters discover the truths behind their unfortunate circumstances.

Red Sand alternates between sections detailing the characters’ backgrounds and high-intensity horror scenes. The back story sections are written in the characters’ voices and maintain a steady pace. The mystery surrounding the island keeps the suspense going until the violent end.

Red Sand is told from multiple third person points of view.

The Princess Anne was just another cruise ship making its way across the ocean, ferrying people from all walks of life, each on board for his or her own purpose. Most are neither heroes nor villains, only ordinary human beings with ordinary problems.

Then their ship goes down, and a few lucky survivors are fished out of the water by inhabitants of a nearby desert island. The inhabitants aren’t savage natives—they’re fellow Westerners, survivors of a previous shipwreck. Having lived on the island for years, they’ve developed a system to keep food in their bellies. The survivors of the Princess Anne are put to work fishing, farming, and otherwise maintaining operations necessary for subsistence. But it soon becomes clear that there’s more to the island—and its inhabitants—that meets the eye. One by one, the Princess Anne’s survivors vanish, picked off by both nature’s and man’s brutality.

Red Sand is an ensemble show. Although some characters drive the plot more than others, Cray treats each one as if he or she is special, presenting the reader with lively backstories told from the characters’ points of views. He wants you to know them before he kills them. It’s a refreshing take on the genre—too many horror writers throw people away simply to illustrate the external dangers. But even though they are props in a bloody show, they’re nevertheless human beings, each with a story.

Cray seems all too aware of this. His cast isn’t made of faceless redshirts; they’re living, breathing people, each with his or her own motivations, on the island for different reasons. There’s Howie, the formerly henpecked widower whose wife left him a cruise ticket—and another wife to henpeck him. And Lauren, the coupon-clipping con artist running away to her new life. And Mason, the lonely single man seeking adventure and companionship. Cray lets you know at the very beginning, in his Author’s Note, that no one will come out alive.

But don’t be fooled by Cray’s seemingly innocuous backstories. Behind the developer of sympathetic characters lies an unapologetic sadist. The horror in Red Sand is more than gruesome—it’s the stomach-turning stuff of nightmares, largely thanks to Cray’s gift for description. Through vivid yet tight language, he brings each scene to life, whether it’s painting the setting or depicting a grisly death. For example, without spoiling too much, here's the death of poor Howie: "He thrashed his arms and legs, pushed against the sand, whipped his head in fury and terror, to no avail. Unbreakable bonds held him to the ground...It wrapped around his ribs and exerted pressure, oh so gentle pressure, until his scream tapered off into a wheezing his...The sun glinted off something near his eye. A slender tentacle slid into view, silhouetted against an azure haze. It drove in figure eights through his eye sockets."

The deaths are told from the close third perspectives of the victims, allowing a reader to feel their terror and hear their thoughts, which are often bizarrely incongruent with the circumstances. Cray’s writing also smacks of the philosophical at times, through dialogues discussing what it means to be cut off from civilization and internal ruminations on what was left behind.

But even knowing the characters’ inevitable fates, I found myself caught up in the story’s suspense. Mysteries abound on the island. The motivations of the islands’ de facto colonizers, so rational at first, soon become garbled. They maintain a rigid hierarchy, keeping themselves behind a salt wall while the Princess Anne’s survivors are made to camp outside. What is it that they fear? What are they hiding from the survivors? And what are they hiding from each other? Tuk, the leader, seems so benevolent at first, but it’s soon revealed that there’s much more to him than a determined John Smith-like survivor.

Red Sand is a fairly quick read. Cray’s vibrant writing makes it easy to get lost in the passages, whether it’s the colorfully told backstories or the intensely depicted scenes of violence. It’s more than just a gore fest—the plot and concepts are fascinating. All in all, a wonderfully entertaining—and sometimes scream-inducing—story.

This book is very well edited. If there were typos, I didn’t notice any.

The front section of the book contains an illustration of the island and a list of characters with brief descriptions.

The book is organized in eight long chapters with section breaks.

This book is classified as “adult” on Smashwords for good reason. Many of the character deaths are described in gruesome, bloody detail. There is some adult language. Sex is mentioned but not described in detail.

[From the author’s Smashwords page]
When he's not eating horse meat in Kazakhstan or sipping civet in Macau, Mr. Cray is drinking his way through New York. His hobbies include fashion, architecture, and pouring social opprobrium into his writing. Mr. Cray is available for dinner party conversation before 7, weeknights.

Visit his blog, Follow him on Twitter, Like him on Facebook, or Contact him by email

RELATED: An Interview with Ronan Cray

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