Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton
Genre: YA Fantasy
Publisher: Faber & Faber
My Rating: 5/5
Synopsis: “Tell me that’s how you want your story to go and we’ll write it straight across the sand.”
Dustwalk is an unforgiving, dead-end town. It’s not the place to be poor or orphaned or female. And yet Amani Al’Hiza must call it ‘home’.
Amani wants to escape and see the world she’s heard about in campfire stories.
Then a foreigner with no name turns up, and with him she has the chance to run.
But the desert plains are full of dangerous magic. The Sultan’s army is on the rise and Amani is soon caught at the heart of a fearless rebellion…
I devoured this book in a couple of days, I simply couldn’t put it down. (Although the typeset is pretty big, so that helped). Hamilton weaves a unique story which draws heavily on Middle Eastern/Arabian and Indian mythology, but also includes more modern technology such as guns and trains. I loved that the mythology was an important part of the novel, interlinking with the semi-modern, but it never felt unbelievable or too stagnant for the pacing.
And the pacing certainly is feverish. The plot is full of action, with well-placed, softer moments, and twists and turns that you don’t see coming. You wouldn’t quite believe this is Hamilton’s first novel. The plotting is slick, the language poetic, the characters well-rounded. The idea of a girl inadvertently joining a rebellion is a little cliché in YA, but Hamilton has crafted a whirlwind story with a strong (but not obnoxious) heroine. Once it gets going, it certainly doesn’t feel like a cliché YA novel.
Amani is a master with a gun and has a smart mouth. At first, she is desperate to scrape money together and leave town for the capital, Izman, escaping the clutches of her creepy uncle and violent aunt. She’s a little selfish in this regard, leaving behind her crippled friend to escape on horseback with a stranger hunted by the Sultan’s army, but she clearly has her reasons. However, this leaves a lot of room for Amani to grow. She soon realises that there is more to life than stories, and her ferocious determination changes from selfish to selfless. She begrudges the world its views on women and I actually think this is a great feminist narrative. Amani’s world may think women inferior, but the women in the book, like Shazad and Hala, certainly carry their own weight. They’re confident, wild and certainly not helpless. Amani’s own mother even stands up to her oppressor, but the act inevitably leads to her execution.
The stranger that Amani flees with is, of course, the love-interest Jin. Thankfully, it isn’t insta-love and we’re given the experience of watching the two grow closer, relying on each other to stay alive in the unforgiving desert. Jin is witty and determined, much like Amani, and the two complement each other. Their growing fondness is believable and fragile and I felt it tugging at my heart strings. However, the romance doesn’t overshadow the main story, which happens much too often in YA. Also, there’s no ridiculous love-triangle.
My only (very small) gripe is the slightly rushed conclusion; everything seems to happen at once and suddenly it’s the end of the book. I would’ve liked a slightly longer climax to the story, but it’s not as if this is a stand-alone book, so there’ll be a lot more answers and action to come.
I’m excited to see what happens next and, if you haven’t picked up a copy, definitely do so.
Have you read Rebel of the Sands? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!