Book Reviews

Review: “Rebel of the Sands,” Alwyn Hamilton

March 14, 2016

I received this book for free from Allen & Unwin Australia in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: “Rebel of the Sands,” Alwyn HamiltonRebel of the Sandsby Alwyn Hamilton
Series: Rebel of the Sands #1
Published by Faber & Faber on February, 2016
Genres: Arabian, Fantasy, Western
Pages: 358
Source: Allen & Unwin Australia
Book Depository | Bookworld | Booktopia

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.

Rebel of the Sands offers a unique twist on the currently ‘trendy’ YA western. Infused with both Arabian and Western culture, Rebel of the Sands tells the story of Amani, a feisty gunslinger from a small, dusty town who wants nothing more than to escape a life she can’t control.

“That’s why I didn’t want to bring you into this revolution, Amani. Because I didn’t want to watch the Blue-Eyed Bandit get unmade by a prince without a kingdom.”
– Jin

What this story lacked, I found, was a clear ‘drive’. Although Amani wished to escape her oppressive hometown, we as the reader never really knew where the story was going. Rebel of the Sands featured a plot that was rather a patchwork of small ‘mini incidents’, rather than one that had a clear goal in mind. Amani herself didn’t even know where she was headed; her initial goal of reaching Izman slipped through her fingers as easily as the desert sands.

The ‘big picture’, when revealed, sadly wasn’t unique enough for me to want to continue with the series. You know the drill: warped ruler oppressing his people, a rebellion lead by a wayward prince and his band of rag-tag ‘soldier’ types. Amani soon finds herself slotting into the cause, transforming from girl willing to leave anyone (even her best friend) behind in order to save her own skin, to someone willing to risk everything to do the right thing.

How does such a change in morals come about? Well, a boy of course.

Rebel of the Sands offers a unique twist on the currently ‘trendy’ YA western. Infused with both Arabian and Western culture, Rebel of the Sands tells the story of Amani, a feisty gunslinger from a small, dusty town who wants nothing more than to escape a life she can’t control.

“Tell me that and we’ll go. Right now. Save ourselves and leave this place to burn. Tell me that’s how you want your story to go and we’ll write it straight across the sand.”

Amani meets Jin early on in the book, and although the two strike up an unlikely friendship (har har, can we even say unlikely friendship in YA anymore?) it’s not exactly a relationship built on trust and honesty. We soon learn there’s more to Jin than he’s telling Amani, and more to Amani than she even knows about herself. Jin and Amani spend a number of months together journeying through the desert, but as this book is just around 400 pages, I didn’t really feel the full weight of the time passing. At best it felt Amani and Jin knew each other for a few days.

Their relationship seemed to develop quickly as the pages flew by, with certain parts of their travels glossed over as chapters changed. It really kept me from believing the draw they felt to one another, especially where romance was concerned. And, as a matter of personal opinion, I just didn’t find Jin all that great or special. What did he bring to the table? What did he have that Amani didn’t already have on her own? Sadly, I didn’t find his appeal.

Despite being a ‘fantasy’, Rebel of the Sands had little magic until the last portion of the book. There’s talk of the First Beings – the Djinni – and things such as Ghouls, but we don’t see them for the longest time. But, there was a part of it which I loved early on – the sand horse, the Buraqi. I was disappointed that he didn’t join Amani and Jin for the majority of the book.

The standout character for me in Rebel of the Sands was Shazad – a completely mortal female fighter who was the daughter of a General. Although she didn’t have as much page time as Amani, I liked her infinitely more. If I were to keep reading this series, once more are released, it would be for her and her alone.

“The world makes things for each place. Fish for the sea, Rocs for the mountain skies, and girls with sun in their skin and perfect aim for a desert that doesn’t let weakness live.”

For some reason I had yet to read one of the now-popular YA westerns. I guess the genre just never really appealed to me, nor have films of this nature. That being said, I did enjoy Amani’s gun-slinging skills and hoped that her great eye for a shot would have something to do with her revealed parentage. Sadly, this was not the case, and when the true nature of it was revealed, I was a little disappointed. Alwyn Hamilton came up with a great reason as to ‘why’ it remained hidden so long, but I think it changed the tone of the book a little too much for my tastes.

I can see where this series is heading, so like I said, I really don’t have much motivation to continue. I already know so many of these stories where kingdoms are overthrown by a group of teenage rebels, and Rebel of the Sands, although seemingly unique, didn’t promise me much of anything new where it counted.

Still, it was quite a quick and enjoyable read and I had nothing bad to say about Alwyn Hamilton’s style of writing. There were many beautiful aspects of this book – the perfect amount of story-telling and description – and I think she will be a writer to watch. And that cover? Utterly gorgeous.

About Alwyn Hamilton

Alwyn Hamilton was born in Toronto and spent her childhood bouncing between Europe and Canada until her parents settled in France. She left France for Cambridge University to study History of Art at King's College, and then to London where she became indentured to an auction house. She has a bad habit of acquiring more hardcovers than is smart for someone who moves house quite so often.

1 Comment

  • Reply Kynndra-jo @ Diva Booknerd March 16, 2016 at 10:35 am

    Awh, I’m sorry to hear that Rebel of the Sands didn’t meet your expectations. It’s really quite disappointing to be honest. Most reviews I’ve read are essentially on the same side of the fence as you are. I was looking forward to this one, and while I’ll eventually get to reading it – it’s certainly not a priority for me. AMAZING review!
    Kynndra-jo @ Diva Booknerd recently posted…BroMy Profile

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