Rebel of the Sands is Alwyn Hamilton’s debut and the first in a trilogy that I cannot wait to finish. I already have the second book waiting at the top of my reading list, and I’m still riding a high from reading Rebel. If you’re looking for a thrilling, fantasy novel to transport you to a fantastic, original setting, this is definitely the book for you.
Rebel’s protagonist is Amani, a young girl who lives in a dead-end town in Miraji, where magical creatures made of sand roam the desert. She can’t wait to get out of Dustwalk, the town where she has grown up, and the opportunity presents itself when a mysterious foreigner shows up in her shop, on the run from the Sultan’s soldiers. Soon, she’s fleeing Dustwalk on a magical horse with a wanted criminal, but she can’t begin to imagine where her journey will take her.
Amani captures your heart from the beginning of the novel. She jumps right off the page. What I loved about her was that despite growing up in a place where she’s sure to end up either dead or married, neither of which she is particularly excited for, she still manages to be independent and fiercely ambitious. In the very first chapter, we see her sneak out of her home to a shooting competition, where she just about clears the floor with her brilliant shooting skills, and throughout the book, we see her putting herself and her goals first. At the same time, she isn’t a cruel character. She prioritises herself, but Hamilton manages to make her endearing all the same. Even if she is knocking people out and taking their money, you’re still rooting for her. Even better however, is the arc that we see Amani go through. She definitely isn’t the same girl at the end of the novel as she is at the start, and we see her begin to question herself quite early on. Without spoiling it for you, if you’re anything like me, there will be several points during the book where you will be fighting to keep yourself from cheering out loud for Amani.
The world that Alwyn Hamilton creates is one of the most fascinating settings I have ever read. It is so different from anything I had ever read before, and she crafts it perfectly. Hamilton herself describes it as a mixture between an ‘Arabian Nights’ desert, and a Wild West desert, and that is exactly how it comes across. I loved the mix between the historical feel of the setting with the much more modern additions like guns and trains, which made the setting feel unique. The magical creatures were also very original, with djinni, mythical horses (made of sand!), skinwalkers, demdjis… Every aspect of Alwyn Hamilton’s world is unique and fascinating, and I can’t wait to see what she does in the next two books! I hope we get to see more of the different locations in the world, and even more of the magic.
Now, some people might say that certain aspects of this are predictable, and even I might have said it if this book wasn’t so exciting and well-written, but I really don’t care about the predictable love story in Rebel, or other storylines that I won’t reveal. The chemistry between Amani and Jin was so intense that at one point I had to put down the book and take a breather! I loved the to and fro, even if I did know where it was going, and their dialogue was witty and easy to read. Even though it was predictable, I didn’t find it soppy or cheesy, and I hope that Alwyn develops and deepens the relationship in the later books. I’d love to see Jin and Amani not only get through crap situations together, but also face some crap between each other. I’m sure that she’ll make the love story in this series feel new, original, and exciting just like every other aspect of her book is.
Overall, I can’t really explain how much I enjoyed this book. Amani starts off as your typical ‘strong female character’, but throughout the book you see her soften and start to question herself. The central relationship, the world and the magic was all so much fun, and Alwyn Hamilton writes so well that I felt like I was watching an action movie unfold in my mind. I am racing towards the second book Traitor to the Throne like a buraqi in the desert, so look out for my review of that in the next few weeks!