Published: February 2016 by Faber & Faber
Genre: Fantasy, Romance
Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
I’m part of the same YA book club as Alwyn Hamilton so Rebel of the Sands has been on my radar for some time. Billed as the “Arabian Nights meets the Wild West”, this novel is the first in a new trilogy and one that sounded really different and exciting.
Amani dreams of having a greater purpose in life and is desperate to leave behind her bitter extended family, who took her in after she was orphaned, and the dead-end desert town that she has grown up in. A talented gunslinger, she’s hoping it’s enough to get her to the capital city of Miraji where she can be free from the constraints of small town life. Her plans are however derailed by the arrival of a foreigner in town who awakens Amani’s desires (romantic and adventurous!) and the two are flung together for survival. But this stranger has secrets of his own and it is not long before Amani finds herself wound up in his mysterious mission and his mesmerizing eyes…
This book was simply delicious. I was really looking forward to reading a novel in an Arabian Nights setting and Rebel of the Sands did not disappoint. Hamilton’s world-building and attention to detail is great and the setting was at once recognisable, familiar enough to ground readers, but different enough to keep it fresh and intriguing. I loved the references to the Djinni fairy tales and the exploration of the spiritual aspect of life in the desert, such as the origins of the world and ideas behind right and wrong. At times, I’ll admit I found it difficult to keep up with the wider world – there were other cities, nations, and political alliances pretty important to the story that I had to make an effort to keep straight but it wasn’t impossible.
Amani was a wonderful character to get to know and follow as she found the world opening up in front of her. She is the ultimate heroine fighting against societal constraints and I loved that she was a balance of bold and loyal but self-critical and unsure – a very realistic 17-year-old. Her smart mouth gave way to some pretty epic lines and made her so badass and impossible not to like. Jinn was also a delight, mysterious but compelling and you can totally understand why Amani found it difficult to abandon him at various points.
Amani’s desperation and need to get away was beautifully explored and was reflected in the barren and vast surroundings of desert that she has been grown up in. At the same time her growing attachment to Jinn felt natural too. It brings to mind the saying that home isn’t a place but a person. I was supper happy that there wasn’t instalove – she totally poisons him at one point in order to put her need to escape first (atta girl!) There were some stereotypical romantic moments e.g. burning touches and overwhelming ~feelings~ but I can forgive Amani those because 1. Jinn is hot and 2. She is so busy being badass the rest of the time that she is totally entitled to some twitterpation 😉
The pacing in the book was just right and the balance between action and explanation was strong throughout. And the overarching plot was super intriguing that I’m eagerly anticipating the next installment. I read this with half a mind to the fact that it was the first in a trilogy and would most likely spend the majority world building, and setting up the plot for the rest of the trilogy so I was pleasantly surprised when the book finished with a satisfying climax and ending of its own with no cliffhanger in sight.
If you’re at all interested in far-flung exotic lands with badass heroines, yummy love interests and the promise of rebellion, you will not be let down by Rebel of the Sands.