YA Weekend: Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton
A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Series: Book 1 of Rebel of the Sands
Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers (March 8, 2016)
Length: 314 pages
Rebel of the Sands was my most highly anticipated Young Adult novel of this spring, and I’m glad to report that it didn’t disappoint. Despite having an overly simplistic storyline and the second half ultimately giving in to predictability, I had a great time with this energetic and audacious debut from Alwyn Hamilton.
The book begins with one of my all-time favorite tropes, featuring our main character pulling off the good old girl-disguised-as-a-guy strategy to enter a shooting competition, where she hopes to use her excellent sharpshooting skills to win her the big cash prize. Her whole life, Amani has been scrimping and saving for the day she will finally escape her dead-end town of Dustwalk and the nasty relatives she has to live with after her mother, the only relative she’s ever known, was executed by hanging. The shooting competition was supposed to be her ticket to a new life, but as it turned out, the outcome was rigged and Amani is forced to go home without her winnings—though not before getting to know one of her rivals, a good looking foreigner named Jin.
Jin, however, turns out to be a wanted man on the run from the army. Back in Dustwalk, Amani goes out on a limb to protect him, resulting in her becoming a fugitive as well. She ends up getting her escape after all, as the two of them take off for the desert ahead of their pursuers, but their trek out among the dunes does not go as smoothly as they had hoped it would, and every setback they face is a chance for their enemy to draw closer.
The beginning of this story is fantastic. All at once I was introduced to a spunky main protagonist, an incredible new world with rich with history and lore, as well as Hamilton’s smooth and elegant prose. Amani is a very likeable character, wearing her talent with guns proudly but not arrogantly; her abilities are more about her way of life, and less about her being a special case. She also has a very good reason to want to leave Dustwalk beyond the fact she has no future there, because a woman who doesn’t get married after they come of age might as well be next to useless. Amani is trying to escape her social circumstances and to avoid being just another one of her uncle’s wives, so I found it easy to root for her.
I also loved the world-building. I’ve long been a fan of western-fantasy settings, though Rebel of the Sands is taking it one step further by combining it with an Arabian Nights feel, plunging readers into world of harsh sun and sand. Supernatural beings like the Djinn as well as magical horses fill these pages, and I was delighted to learn about the mythology that the author created for her book. Mortals endowed with special powers exist as well, and these cases are explained in a very imaginative way, by pulling in elements from legend and mixing them with Hamilton’s own touches.
Around the halfway mark though, the story returns to a well-trodden path, becoming more predictable and filled with clichés. It was very obvious that all the information and history dropped in at the beginning of the story was going to come into play later in the books. There were absolutely no surprises at this point, and the twist that came later on fell flat on its face because anyone paying attention could have seen it coming a million miles away. The lack of originality in to the plot was a little disappointing, but that might be the only reason why I’m not rating this book higher because I tend to be harsher than most on YA stories with predictable outcomes.
Otherwise, I can’t deny that Rebel of the Sands was a lot of fun, and I blew through this novel like a whirlwind because it was such an easy read. While the overarching plotline might not be the freshest, the book’s world itself was breathtakingly unique, and I had a really good time following its lovely cast of characters. Not much news right now on the sequel to this first installment of what is to be a planned trilogy, but I’m definitely on board for more.