Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton - Review

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.

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But actually this book was fantastic. The world building and characters are incredibly developed and complex. The mix of cultures and eras and genres is exciting and original while also harkening back to traditional folklore and stories. I'd like to see Amani take on any of the famous, badass women that are taking over YA right now, for it would be a sight to see (or read, I guess). In short, I thought that Rebel of the Sands was a unique, exciting adventure with an amazing and inspiring heroine and I can't believe I didn't read this sooner. 

Two things really shine in this book: the characters and the world-building. These two elements tied together are what really makes this story amazing, in my opinion. Amani reminded me so much of Renee Ahdieh's Shahrzad from the Wrath and the Dawn but is wholly a badass female heroine all on her own. Her determination really drives the story and is at the center of its motivation. The way she approaches the world takes the caution and the cynicism seen a lot in YA literature but also adds this element of hope and ambition and sensibility. The way that she uses weapons, mechanical ones like guns and bombs, in a world that resonates with old fairytales set in Persia or the Middle East (or almost like Agraba from Aladdin) really differentiates Amani's story from any others. I loved the mixture of machines and magic, and how those tensions affect the world as well as Amani's own personal journey. The story as a whole likes to play with shades of grey - one can be a hero and an outlaw, the land can be as barren as it is lush, and everyone is more than they seem. Part fantasy, part western, the world is familiar and yet undiscovered - the readers and the characters keep finding new ways this world works and is changing, balanced on the edge of a knife between ancient magic and mechanic modernity.

An excellent cast of secondary characters round out this series. Jin is a perfect foil to Amani. I really enjoyed that I didn't like him at first, that I was as suspicious of him as Amani was. I also liked that while I could predict what part he was going to play, his character didn't read as too predictable, and his part in the story is one that barely slips by being too cliche. The rest of the cast of characters, while all working to fill in the necessary gaps of an adventure/fairytale story (the "evil" aunt, uncle, and cousin, for example), are all well fleshed out and, like Jin, I think do just enough to not fit too nicely into the classic molds. 

If you couldn't tell, I loved this book. I started reading it late one night after noticing that Traitor to the Throne had come out and then kicked myself for waiting so long. The only consolation was that the sequel had just come out, so I didn't have to wait. Unfortunately, now I have to wait for the third book.

If you haven't read Rebel of the Sands yet, I highly recommend. It has something for everyone - a kickass heroine who lives in a world with both guns and magics, with trains that roll through deserts that were once ruled by ancient, powerful, ruthless beings. It has action, magic, a little bit of romance, and a world that leaves the reader with infinite imaginings. 

The second book, Traitor to the Throne is out now! My review for it will be out next Tuesday. 
Find out more about Alwyn Hamilton and her books here: http://alwynhamilton.com

Alwyn Hamilton was born in Toronto and spent her childhood bouncing between Europe and Canada until her parents settled in France. She grew up in a small town there, which might have compelled her to burst randomly into the opening song from Beauty and the Beast were it not for her total tone-deafness. She instead attempted to read and write her way to new places and developed a weakness for fantasy and cross-dressing heroines. 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.

Happy Reading!


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