Title: Rebel of the Sands
Author: Alwyn Hamilton
Date: 8th March 2016
Publisher: Faber and Faber
Where can you buy it: Reader’s Warehouse
Rating: 5 stars
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.
As you all probably know by now, I am a fantasy fanatic. All I need in a book is magic, supernatural beings, a strong kick-ass heroine and detailed world-building and I am sold. Alwynn Hamilton’s debut novel Rebel of the Sands ticked all those boxes and more. I will admit that this was initially a cover buy, I mean look at that cover. Doesn’t it just scream “buy me”? I had heard a little bit of buzz about the novel but not enough to really know what it was about. But as soon as I began reading I was absolutely hooked.
Hamilton does a magnificent job at weaving the elements of the Western sharp-shooter trope and setting it a world that is clearly influenced by the Middle East, both in landscape and in myth. Our protagonist is Amani, a young orphan who is living with her Aunt and Uncle in a desert town called Dustwalk. Amani is faced with either marrying or leaving Dustwalk in search of a better life. When we meet Amani she is dressed as a boy and entering the a sharp-shooting competition in hopes of winning the prize money which she intends on using to buy a one-way ticket out of Dustwalk. But things don’t go as she planned and she ends up having to escape the tavern with the help of a mysterious foreigner. The situation only escalate from this point and Amani realises that this foreigner might just be her only chance of getting out of Dustwalk.
The world Hamilton created is clearly influenced by Middle-Eastern myth and at times reminded me of a the kind of tale Shahrzad may have told the Caliph in Arabian Nights. If you’re an avid YA reader then you may have noticed that the Arabian Nights tropes/retellings have become increasingly popular. I personally think the idea of “Orient-centric” (for lack of a better word) fantasy is a good direction for YA fantasy because the East and the Middle East is rich with myth and magic and it is about time that Fantasy becomes less Eurocentric and begin to diversify. Don’t get me wrong, I love fantasy that involves dragons, elves, and dwarves set in typically Euro-esque setting, however Hamilton’s take on the concept of the Djinn as the First Beings is refreshing for a change and I’d love to read more novels set in a world much like this.
I absolutely fell in love with the characters. Amani is a strong and admirable protagonist who both understands what it is meant to be a woman in a society that is extremely misogynistic and patriarchal and why it is important for her as a woman to defy these men’s rules. And in that sense it could be read in a feminist light. The novel draws on the age old trope of the girl who pretends to be a boy in order to be successful in whatever it is she is trying to do or achieve, thus highlighting the injustices of a patriarchal or misogynistic society. Hamilton does this really well while still maintaining the fantastical. Not only is it an entertaining read, but it also addresses important issues in terms of femininity and feminism.
I have but one problem with this novel. It was too short. After reading Rebel of the Sands I found myself in a terrible reading slump because I enjoyed it that much. I am excited to see where Alwyn Hamilton will take this story. And now for the long wait for the second novel…