It never mattered to me if they were true. They had enough truth of greater ideas, of heroes and sacrifice and the things everybody wanted to be.
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.
* * *
3 / 5
I’ll admit it. I had very high hopes for Rebel of the Sands and I was initially quite disappointed, right up until 2/3 of the way through. The setting and mythology were lush, the characters were spunky, but Rebel of the Sands was missing the spark that makes a book memorable and good. Then, suddenly, it was everything I wanted but there was only a hundred pages left!
This revolution was a legend in the making. The kind of tale that sprawled out long before me and far beyond my reach.
Amani Al’Hiza lives in the dead-end desert town of Dustwalk under the “care” of her uncle. Her future? To be wed to her uncle, or to be dead. Rebel of the Sands has a stunningly good opening chapter; Amani is gunning (haha) for money to flee Dustwalk and to make it to a bigger city when she collides with Jin, a foreigner boy who seems like he could get her out. I loved Amani. She’s spunky, knows what she wants, and makes excellent (but difficult) decisions. She lets people die. Hold on, this is a positive trait, I swear! I’ve met a lot of characters who do stupid things out of honour or pride or a sense of betrayal. Amani, on the other hand, has her head screwed on straight: she’s a good shot and handy with a gun, but when the going get’s tough, Amani gets running.
The first thing that disappointed me was the writing, to be honest. From all the raving my late teenage / early twenties friends had been doing, I thought this would be a Young Adult book in the literal sense of the words. It’s not – I would perfectly happily give this book to someone as young as ten. That’s not a problem, per se, it’s just not what I was expecting and so was a bit taken aback. When I got over my (exceedingly adult) disgruntlement, I settled into Hamilton’s writing, which is actually really lovely. It’s got some delightfully quotable lines that I’m sure some artsy people have put on posters and mugs and such.
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.
Then there’s Jin. He’s being marketed as mysterious and devastatingly handsome. How do I know this? Because the narration keeps telling us. He has tattoos. And a few muscles. That’s about all I know about what Jin looks like. He’s also a bit of a whinge-bag. I did think I had his “character twist” completely pegged. But then Hamilton pulls a lovely actual twist on us (at this illustrious 2/3 mark) and whilst I still didn’t think that much of Jin, at least he was slightly more interesting. I still didn’t care for the romance.
No matter that the Buraqi were fewer and the Djinn didn’t live alongside men any more, no matter how many factories rose up filled with iron and smoke: this was magic that didn’t fade. It lived in the memory of the world itself.
What is really good is the supporting cast. Again, 2/3 the way through we get an excellent backing cast. There’s Shazad, daughter of a general and a fine tactician in her own making, and a handful of Demedji, children of humans and Djinni, who are all super awesome. This is when the mythology gets really interwoven with the plot and I loved it. There’s the Buraqi, horses of sand and wind, the Demedji, Skinwalkers, and more. The setting, loosely inspired by various Middle Eastern cultures (the book never specifies which specifically, but I believe it may be mostly Persian? Anyone?) is well utilised and makes such a lovely change from fantasy novels set in quasi-European Medieval era. There’s also a touch of Western Cowboy influence. There is a lot of sexism in the world, which is a bit frustrating to read, but Amani has some lovely and insightful commentary and never delves into making sexist comments herself.
Rebel of the Sands takes a while to build up some steam for me. There’s lots of things to love: Amani, train fights, the setting, Amani, the Demedji, the rebellion, Amani, the magic, and, you know it, Amani. I’m super excited to see where Traitor to the Throne takes me.