As Century of Sand opens, we are presented with a chilling scene: a man, clutching the limp body of a young girl, escapes a castle by cover of night. Nothing is said about who he is or where he is going, but through the language of well-chosen details we sense the seriousness of his crime and the precious nature of his cargo. A glance back over his shoulder makes us feel his anxiety; we are in his shoes now, facing the guards ahead with feigned assurance, knowing that any break in our resolve will spell certain disaster.
And that’s just the first two paragraphs.
Century of Sand is nothing less than a triumph of well-crafted storytelling. It succeeds on several levels, boasting elegant prose, entertaining adventure, well-drawn characters and a consummately developed fantasy world.
The story follows a soldier named Richard, who has betrayed his regent, the Magician, and stolen two items of immeasurable value: a magical stone which may or may not contain the secret of eternal life, and his own daughter, a mute girl named Ana who was being raised in the Magician’s “care.” His goal is to return the stone to its place of origination: the Ant Tower, a colossal, demonically possessed termite mound deep in the desolate Meritran desert. Even in the best of times the journey would be impossibly perilous, but Richard has many additional complications to deal with: the Magician’s deadly forces on his tail, his daughter’s mysteriously distant nature, and his own flaws and foibles, some of which were responsible for leading him to such a desperate situation in the first place.
While all the major characters in Century are fleshed out and interesting, the real star of the show is the relationship between Richard and Ana. A major theme of the book is Richard’s failing as a parent, and Ana’s innocence (which works in contrast to the darker aspects of her nature) as a possible redemptive agent. Their relationship is subtle and touching, and develops nicely as the story progresses. I will avoid discussing some of my favorite scenes to prevent spoilers, but suffice to say Ruz does an excellent job communicating some of the horrible paradoxes of love and frustration that come with having a child.
According to Ruz’s website, Century of Sand took four years to write, and it shows. The prose is polished and honed, with barely an extraneous sentence or word to be found in its 400+ pages. If Ruz puts the same amount of shine on the next two books of his proposed trilogy, then readers will be in for a treat, once more of them discover this diamond in the desert wastes.
Rating: Five burnouse-covered demon hearts out of five.