by Alwyn Hamilton
Series: Rebel of the Sands #1
Published on March 8, 2016 by Viking
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Mortals rule the desert nation of Miraji, but mythical beasts still roam the wild and remote areas, and rumor has it that somewhere, djinn still perform their magic. For humans, it’s an unforgiving place, especially if you’re poor, orphaned, or female.
Amani Al’Hiza is all three. She’s a gifted gunslinger with perfect aim, but she can’t shoot her way out of Dustwalk, the back-country town where she’s destined to wind up wed or dead.
Then she meets Jin, a rakish foreigner, in a shooting contest, and sees him as the perfect escape route. But though she’s spent years dreaming of leaving Dustwalk, she never imagined she’d gallop away on mythical horse—or that it would take a foreign fugitive to show her the heart of the desert she thought she knew.
Rebel of the Sands reveals what happens when a dream deferred explodes—in the fires of rebellion, of romantic passion, and the all-consuming inferno of a girl finally, at long last, embracing her power.
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By the time I had the chance to read this book, I knew it would either be absolutely amazing or a huge letdown (as tends to happen when you leave an anticipated TBR waiting). Rebel of the Sands fell on the former side with a beautiful world of magic and sand and enough action to keep any reader entertained.
We’re introduced to Amani and the desert where she lives, a barren place with scattered towns anyone with enough sense would want to escape. And for her and her deadly accuracy with a gun, it almost seems possible. First off, I loved her character. She wasn’t physically strong for a fantasy heroine (no wielding swords and taking down men twice her size) but she was strong nonetheless. Her wit and skill with firearms made her as deadly as any young woman I’ve read about and set her up for success. Also, thank goodness Hamilton didn’t use the “tom-boy” trope (you know the one where the girl always dressed like a boy and hates dresses, but suddenly has to wear one and it causes an uproar?). This heroine couldn’t care less what she’s wearing as long as it’s practical. Her no-care attitude was refreshing and fun to read.
Amani isn’t some lost princess, or a “chosen” sorceress. I could relate to her because she’s a girl from a small town with the burning need to escape. This isn’t a story about a girl fulfilling a destiny, but one with a hunger for more and a need to survive. It’s a matter of relying on herself over all others because when it comes down to it, she puts herself first. I know I’ve talked a lot about her now but there are very few female protagonists that stick out in my mind for being more than the purpose they serve the story and I’m happy to add Amani to that list.
Her dreams put her in the same path as Jin, another sharpshooter with secrets of his own. I wasn’t so fond of him after the PLOT TWIST (and guys, it’s a good one), feeling as betrayed as Amani does. But overall, he complemented her and their friendship and budding romance was perfect. Natural. Easy to fall into. Often it’s easy to guess twists and turns in a book but in this case I never expected the full extent of it. My only complaint is that the sudden wrenches thrown into her story came bunched together toward the end and so the first half of the book moved a bit slower.
I think my favorite part about this book is that the story became as much about the world as the characters. I look for world-building in a fantasy story. If I can’t believe the world exists, at the very least in my imagination, then I’m not inclined to continue reading. Yet the characters only filled half the plot. There was a history of this country that came out as the book progressed, unfolding much as unrolling an ancient tapestry.
The writing isn’t what captivated; it was the world. Hamilton’s style wasn’t the edge-of-your-seat type yet you feel drawn in all the same. There is absolutely no doubt that I’ll be buying the sequel and any others in this series. I have a feeling Amani and Jin are only at the beginning of their adventures and I intend to see them through to the end. If you haven’t yet, pick up a copy of Rebel of the Sands and make sure to add Alwyn Hamilton to your auto-buy author list while you’re at it.