Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The first thing to say about Rebel of the Sands is that the cover is really, really beautiful. It’s eye-catching in blue and gold, and one of the best covers I’ve seen in a long time.
Rebel of the Sands follows Amani, a girl, dressed as a boy, trying to get out of her hometown, Dustwalk, to escape her uncle and travel to the city to live with her aunt (who she has never met). To leave, she needs money, and so she enters a shooting tournament. There she meets a foreigner, Jin, who will change her life forever…
Rebel of the Sands is unlike any other book I’ve read. It’s a Western, set in a desert, with mythical creatures and magic and the ilk. Each scene is so unbelievably clear, it’s like watching a film in book form. Amani is independent, rebellious, and determined to get what she wants, and that means going against what female characters often do, which is drop everything for the first attractive man they set eyes on. She’s decisive, self-preserving and a bit of a badass.
The setting is unusual for a YA novel, and as such is new and exciting, with different challenges than we normally see for fantasy characters and worlds. The characters are diverse, and, yet again unusual for a YA novel, I didn’t imagine these characters as white. The names and setting are like the Middle East on Earth, somewhere not very many novels are set. Hamilton thus brings a different dynamic to YA fantasy, one that I hope other authors will pick up on – not every fantasy needs to be set in a counterpart to the Western world.
I loved the feminist aspect, and the romance didn’t feel forced or unexpected. Action is definitely the forefront of this book, and Rebel shows that you don’t need a big dramatic romance in a good book – the other plot arcs can really carry a book. There were also some brilliant twists that I wasn’t expecting, but that made sense in hindsight – a sign of a good book.
Rebel has got a lot of brilliant reviews, but it fell a little short of 5 stars for me. I would have liked the characters to have been a little more developed (I think that perhaps too many characters are introduced too quickly). The book also felt like it dragged a little – although at 358 pages, this is more due to the style that to actual length. High octane action movies often have little plot spread over 2 hours – Rebel feels at times like a 4/5/6 hour action movie (depending on how long it takes you to read the book!). There are many more events in the novel than there would be in a film, and that takes some getting used to.
A promising and original YA debut, I’m hoping for many more beautiful covers (and stories) to come!
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