Vera Brook takes sports to a bloodthirsty level in her debut sci-fi novel.

Kaiden (Kai) Reed has one ambition: to impress Sara. With little to do in his ghetto town, especially after losing his parents, Kai sets his mind to winning this year’s local athletic competition, knowing that the end goal will be a kiss from Sara.

An odd landing to an immense leap leaves Kai struggling during the last leg of a grueling obstacle course. Kai sees a mysterious drone hovering around him just moments before he wins the race. He doesn’t think much of it until it returns the following day, announcing that he has been chosen to be a Runner for “the most extreme, most spectacular, most eagerly anticipated athletic competition on the planet—The Tenth Global No Limits Race.”

A neuroscientist turned fiction writer, rising author Vera Brook attacks her literary craft like she has been at it for years. In the telling of Kai’s heart-stopping adventure, Brook presents a teenager who is willing to pay the highest price for love and a chance of a better future. A part of Kai’s acceptance into the No Limits Race is watching a gory surgical procedure—one that Kai will have to undergo himself to gain the status of a Runner.

Kai signs the contract and moments later, is whisked away to the game center in the megacity.

Brook has a firm footing on character development. Kai, her primary protagonist, and Emily Starr, Kai’s trainer, who comes in a close second, are nothing less than feisty. The duo’s fierce—near reckless—fortitude is raw and visceral. Brook tightly weaves irony and tension between these two toughened characters.

Kai trains hard even though Emily rubs him the wrong way. Amid the constant friction, Kai senses that there are more hidden elements behind Emily’s gruff persona than she would ever admit. Curiosity gets the best of Kai, and he begins to look for ways to find answers to his suspicions.

Still, as the tension mounts and stakes rise, Brook springboards from the duo’s friction and Kai’s sleuthing to develop the possibility of romance. That is just one among a hefty handful of themes Brook deftly incorporates into her fast-paced and highly edgy read.

While much of the storyline focuses on Kai and Emily, there are hints of other complications brewing. For one, Kai senses early on that something is not kosher with the No Limits Race, but can’t quite put his finger on it. His acuity, nonetheless, is spot-on.

Indeed, there are sinister underpinnings, and Brook does a stellar job rolling character foils and ugly antagonists into unquestionably harsh circumstances. Additionally, Brook increases tension to the aforementioned drama with a chain of shifting perspectives, to keep Kai and the reader guessing.

Designed for YA readers, yet reaching for a broad audience, Sand Runner is a top-notch read, especially for those dedicated fans of The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner.

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