Title: Rebel of the Sands
Author: Alwyn Hamilton
Date Read: 10/05/2016 – 16/05/2016
I have to start by saying that I did myself a bit of a disservice in the lead-up to reading this book by forming some completely baseless expectations about it. Some of them sort of turned out to be the case, but I definitely made things up based on what I thought I was reading on the back cover (unfortunately, going into details about these expectations will give things away, so you’ll just have to bear with me). Unfortunately, it meant that I was busy expecting things that weren’t coming that it distracted me from what is actually quite a well-written YA fantasy.
Amani wants nothing more than to escape the drudgery of Dustwalk, and when a mysterious foreigner turns up and gives her that opportunity, she takes it, even if it means leaving her only friend for dead. Soon she is caught up with a group of rebels looking for a better way of life, even if it means sacrificing themselves and overthrowing the Sultan to do it.
First of all, credit where credit is due, Alwyn Hamilton has created a flawed heroine who goes through honest character development. In her desperation to get out Dustwalk, she makes some honestly selfish decisions, and it was a breath of fresh air. I find often when we describe YA characters as “flawed”, their flaws are there, but minimal, and Amani was a great contrast to that. When she realises she wants to stay with her new friends and defend them, you can really see the change she’s undergone.
Amani is surrounded by interesting characters, namely Jin, the aforementioned mysterious stranger. His true identity is a spoiler, so I won’t mention it here, but we certainly find out things about him along the way that aren’t necessarily expected. As they travel with a caravan and then join the other rebels, we are treated to lots of colourful side characters who add a lot of depth to the world.
I liked some aspects of the world-building but found other parts fell a bit flat for me. The desert setting, with its history of Sultans and First Beings (djinn, etc), was exactly what I had been craving, but I could never quite put my finger on the time period it was supposed to be. It’s not steampunk, but the characters all wield guns and ride trains, so it’s definitely industrial. Some of the language they used felt quite modern, but it was clearly not set present-day (if they can’t take the train, it’s still camels).
The plot is well-structured and unfolds at a good pace. The only problem is that it never feels very exciting. I think this is partly to do with the writing style; it’s in first person, but as good as Amani is as a character, her narrative voice is not that engaging.
Overall, while I enjoyed this book, I am not dying for the sequel. I do recommend it though, if you want something a bit different from the typical YA fantasy.