Title: Rebel of the Sands (2016)
Author: Alwyn Hamilton
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Extent: 320 pages
Release Date: February 4, 2016
She’s more gunpowder than girl—and the fate of the desert lies in her hands.
Mortals rule the desert nation of Miraji, but mystical beasts still roam the wild and barren wastes, and rumor has it that somewhere, djinni still practice their magic. But there’s nothing mystical or magical about Dustwalk, the dead-end town that Amani can’t wait to escape from.
Destined to wind up “wed or dead”, Amani’s counting on her sharpshooting skills to get her out of Dustwalk. When she meets Jin, a mysterious and devastatingly handsome foreigner, in a shooting contest, she figures he’s the perfect escape route. But in all her years spent dreaming of leaving home, she never imagined she’d gallop away on a mythical horse, fleeing the murderous Sultan’s army, with a fugitive who’s wanted for treason. And she’d never have predicted she’d fall in love with him…or that he’d help her unlock the powerful truth of who she really is.
It took me the first half of Rebel of the Sands to actually be personally invested in the story–but when it finally delivered, it delivered quite a lot.
The first half of this book was three-star material for me: it was ladened with descriptions and occasionally felt like an info-dump, and I had to put it down several times because my attention would just stray. The second half of the book, however, was solidly four stars: the action picked up, the pacing increased, more colourful characters were introduced, and I began to connect the dots between pieces of information that were previously simply floating in my head.
My disconnect for the first half came from one thing: Hamilton’s tendency to describe things, places and people using so many foreign (to me) words, for example khalat, sheema, Djinni, Gamanix, Demdji, Sultim, etc. This slowed down my reading because it took me a while to remember which is what, and I kept having to flip back and forth the book so I could get a better understanding of what’s currently happening.
Don’t get me wrong, though, all these terms made her world-building a lot more vivid, a cross between the more traditional Arabian fantasy story and the modern, steampunk-ish bullets-and-guns Western. The mythology is interesting, the magic is not overly powerful and exciting, and once these two elements came to play in the plot, my interest in the story multiplied.
“You are this country, Amani.” He spoke more quietly now. “More alive than anything ought to be in this place. All fire and gunpowder, with one finger always on the trigger.”
Amani is such a determined main character, and I like her attitude. This was a girl who didn’t like her lot in life and actually did something to change that. I enjoyed, especially, how she deals with feeling inferior, feeling inadequate, to the greatness that she sees–what a relatable emotion in an unrelatable situation! I also liked the supporting characters, most of whom appeared after the middle mark: Ahmed, Bahi, Delila, and especially Shazad.
I didn’t really care for Jin and don’t think he was especially unique as a love interest, which I think contributed to my apathy about the first half of the book. I could roll with their relationship, though, since I appreciated the way he treated Amani. He didn’t shy away from pushing her to do what she is capable of, calling her when she needed it, or telling her the unhappy truths (at least later on in the story).
Hamilton’s writing is beautiful but I found it less readable than it could have been. She has such poetic descriptions of a lot of things–her characters speak like poets–and while that didn’t feel out of place, each significant thing was quite heavily described. It’s certainly very lyrical and suitable to the setting, but it’s not efficient–not the most conducive writing style for a fast pacing, which might explain why the book felt really slow to me.
No matter that the Buraqi were fewer and the Djinn didn’t live alongside men any more, no matter how many factories rose up filled with iron and smoke: this was magic that didn’t fade. It lived in the memory of the world itself. The first true dark, when matches wouldn’t strike, tinder wouldn’t catch, and stars hid.
I ended up going with three stars, however, because if I had another book I was dying to read at the time I started Rebel of the Sands, I might have dropped it and never got on to the part where I actually felt engaged to the story.
Overall, Rebel of the Sands was a solid introduction to a new series, equipped with an interesting main character, vivid world-building and just enough fantasy. I’m really excited to see where the next book takes us! ❤
* I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This in no way swayed my opinion of the book.