Rebel of the Sands (Rebel of the Sands #1)
By: Alwyn Hamilton
Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: March 8th, 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.
I got a $50 Barnes and Noble gift card from my aunt for graduation, and Rebel of the Sands was one of my purchases–and, while I openly admit I was drawn in by the gorgeous cover, this book was the Wild West/Middle East mashup I never knew I needed.
Plot-wise, this book felt a little like Walk on Earth a Stranger, except it was strong where Rae Carson’s book felt weak. Both Amani and Leah are total tomboys who are happy to cross-dress when it gets them something, and both are strong-willed characters trapped in societies which don’t respect women. They both are orphans, in an unhappy living situation, who want to get out of Dodge. And then both go on perilous journeys with male ‘friends’.
That might end the resemblance. I felt that the plot was much quicker and more exciting than Walk on Earth a Stranger–I mean, Amani rides out of town with the army on her heels, on a mystical horse of sand and wind. There are train heists, rebels, complex international politics at work, and a truly fantastic magic system based on Djinni.
I loved Amani as a character. I appreciated how her she was both confident and insecure, determined to make her own way yet able to rely on Jin. She made plenty of mistakes, but she learned from them. In other words, she was a complex character that I felt like I could relate to.
I also enjoyed how Jin was in so many ways a foil to her, and in so many other ways a true companion. Although their romance felt a bit like instalove at first, just in the whole ‘two strangers meet, make the town mad at them, and run off together’, it developed slowly enough that I was happy. There were also enough fits and starts at the beginning to make me laugh at them–how they each tried to get away from the other, and then somewhere towards the halfway point just gave up and decided to stick together. It felt realistic enough that I wasn’t annoyed.
The part of the book where I fell in love was when the rebels came in and Amani figured out her destiny (not to be dramatic, but that’s kinda what happened). Walk on Earth a Stranger never really had that focus, not until the very last chapter, and so it felt meandering. Whereas although Rebel of the Sands was a running-away story at first, by the time we really hit the action it was a tight, focused novel that delivered exactly the punches I’d hoped it would.
Another thing that was absent from Rebel of the Sands (if I continue the comparison) is the proselytizing. Although the injustices stemming from Amani’s gender are pointed out, she finds ways around them, mostly by being awesome. She ends up in a place where all of her skills are valued, and needed, and she’s valued and needed as a person. And although you could draw a lot of conclusions about the foreign Gallans coming through and trampling all over the Miraji culture and magic, this isn’t obvious. I also appreciate how every side in the complicated political struggle has flaws, and that Hamilton doesn’t romanticize much except for the rebels–which sounds like it gets turned on its head in the second book. I also really appreciated that although this is something of a mashup, there’s a uniquely Miraji/Arabic culture displayed, and displayed reasonably well. I imagined this book set in a place a little like Lawrence of Arabia, only cooler and with more female characters and fewer white men bossing the rebels around.
It was an odd, interesting story, but one I couldn’t help but love. This was definitely a great present to myself, and I look forward to seeing how the awesomeness carries throughout the rest of the trilogy.
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Disclaimer: The synopsis and cover picture were pulled from the book’s Goodreads page. Neither belong to us.