Title: Rebel of the Sands
Author: Alwyn Hamilton
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy, Western, Arabian
Series: Rebel of the Sands
Publication Date: March 8, 2016
Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers
Format: Hardcover, 314 pages
“She’s more gunpowder than girl—and the fate of the desert lies in her hands.
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.”
Quick and Dirty:
The story of a desert girl with an innate ability to shoot and a desperate need to leave her birthplace that gets swept up a world of Djinni, magic, steel, and rebellion.
“They said the only folks who belonged in Deadshot after dark were the ones who were up to no good.”
When I received this book in my Uppercase Box from March I was looking forward to reading it. After all I had heard this title come up time and time again when discussing the most anticipated young adult books of 2016 or great debut novels of 2016. I was also looking forward to this book because the arabian subgenre of you adult books has been huge this year. Churning out great books like The Wrath and The Dawn series.
What I found not far into this book was that the writing was well done and I appreciated the attempt to create a western style young adult fantasy set in an Arabian desert. But that was where it ended for me. The protagonist fell flat while I was reading the story from her perspective, the plot took too long to pick up, and the clash of themes detracted from the story as a whole. I especially had a problem with the aimlessness of the protagonist’s journey. Amani, the protagonist, was so desperate to leave her town that she had no real goal to her journey. The most she had figured out was she was heading to this large city that might have a relative of her’s that she had never actually met. Even after she had started to leave she still seemed far too unconcerned about how she was getting to the city and why. For most of the book I was bored. Additionally, I was really looking forward to seeing how the western style story would be sustained in the Arabian desert setting, but I found this combination was problematic. I often found that too many elements from one of these styles would intermingle with the other. For example, I really enjoyed the fact that the protagonist was a sharpshooter and the horses made of desert, but the “high noon” attitude was a little too much for me and made the mythical elements introduced later in the book seem too out of place. On the flip side of that, if there were less mythical elements involved later in the story then the western style in the beginning could have been more easily carried through to the end. In other words, I think this combination of styles would have worked better if a few elements had been taken away from one or the other. The bright spots for me were when the character Jin was front and center. That character carried a genuine spark of life in him that I enjoyed.
Just as I was looking forward to where Jin would take Amani, the pair of them got swept up into a rebellion that was textbook in too many ways for me to really get behind it. I also found the leader of the rebellion far too patron like for a guy that was supposed to be in his late teens.
All this being said, I did enjoy the Djinni myths and the mythological beings that popped up throughout the book. I especially enjoyed the way that the author described the mythical horses of the desert, the Buraqi. The way that this mythical horse appeared, acted, and was described was exciting and enjoyable.
Basically I do not believe that this book really lives up to the hype and I expected more based on how many people have been going crazy for it. I do plan on continuing to read this series in the hopes that the other books will have a better plot and I get to read more of Jin.
Jin was standing motionless in the middle of the ring, the muscles across his bare back glistening with sweat as they rose and fell. He let his opponent circle him. The other man dove at Jin, who caught him and slammed him to the ground. I heard the crack of the man’s nose just before the cheers drowned anything else out.
“He can throw a hit as well as take one, I’ll give him that,” Parviz of the Camel’s Knees Caravan ran his knuckles along his jaw as he watched Jin’s opponent wipe his bloody nose.
I snorted, pitching my voice low to go with my disguise. I was a boy again tonight. No matter how many noses Jin turned bloody, no one was going to take us on as hired muscle so long as I was a girl. And we needed a caravan to get across the Sand Sea without dying of thirst.
It had taken us a day of walking and all our supplies to get to Massil. What was left of our money we spent getting into the city. It was five fouza for every camel to enter the ancient walls and three forza for every person. The cost of a life told you all you needed to know about the place, especially in the Trader City, where everything was a commodity. Here, human life was the cheapest thing going. Those were Jin’s words as we passed beneath a huge stone arch into the once glorious city.
Even I knew the story of Massil. A wise and powerful Djinni once ruled there, back when it was the greatest city on the edge of the Small Sea. The Djinni fell in love with the daughter of one of the traders and offered him the whole city in exchange for her hand. The girl was already promised to another trader from far across the Small Sea, but the greedy father wanted the city. So he fashioned a living doll of wax and magic to trick the Djinni while marrying his daughter to the trader. When the Djinni discovered the trick, he had already given the man the city. And Djinni were only able to tell the truth, which meant they were bound by their word. Unable to take the city back, he raised a sandstorm so great that the sea was swallowed and there was nothing but sand as far as the eye could see. And then he vanished, leaving the worthless city on the edge of the desert to the greedy merchant.
Massil, the last bastion of civilization before the Sand Sea crossing.
The crowd roared as Jin landed a punch on his opponent’s face with a crunch and sent him down to the ground again.
No more civilized than anywhere else, best I could see.
“You ought to see him in a real tight spot,” I said to Parviz. “I’ve seen him break a man’s hand like that.” I clicked my fingers, thinking of the noise Dahmad’s wrist made when it cracked. Just then Jin’s opponent dove at him again. Jin sidestepped him, his leg lashing out, catching the man’s knee and flipping him over to land flat in the sand. Parviz had a trader’s face, even better than a gambler’s. But I reckoned he was impressed.
“He’d have to be able to fight if he’s always got to be rescuing scrawny little brothers,” a voice chimed in from a few bodies over. I knew before I made the mistake of raising my head that the comment was meant for me. A boy with crooked front teeth had been trying to get a rise out of me all night. I reckoned he wanted me to take a swing at him so he could beat me up and impress some caravan leader without having to step into the ring and fight someone his own size. Jin might be able to hit him hard enough to straighten out his teeth, but I wasn’t fixing to get my arm broke.
Parviz turned to me and eyed me up against Jin. “He’s your brother?”
“We had different mothers.” Our charade was rickety as an old henhouse, but it was the only thing that was likely to get us hired and across the desert without being picked apart by buzzards two days out. “We’ll work for half of what the others are asking for,” I said instead of answering the question. We’d been turned down twice already tonight, maybe on account of Jin’s foreignness or my size. But the Camel’s Knees clan had a reputation for being cheapskates.
“I’ve been trading since I was high as a camel’s knee,” Paviz chuckled at his own joke. “I can count well enough to know that with two of you it works out the same fee as a single man, and then there’s an extra mouth to feed. I don’t need dead weight, Alidad.” He called me by the fake name I’d given. “Even if you don’t hardly weigh nothing.”
Parviz turned away,and already my heckler was stepping out to meet him. “You’ve a fine eye for business, my friend. Now I could take any of these fellows any time of any day.” He gestured in a wide arc with a glass of dark liquor dangling from his fingers.
My gun was in my hand in a flash, ready to execute some half-formed plan.
I squeezed the trigger.
The glass in the heckler’s hand shattered before the bullet sank into the wall behind him.
The pit fell silent. The heckler stared dumbly at his handful of glass, blood, and liquor. Someone in the crowd burst out laughing, and then the roar of conversation went up again.
“You son of a bitch!” The heckler had a piece of glass sticking out from his thumb. “You shot me!”
“No, I shot your glass. Don’t worry, the liquor’ll wash the blood off.” I holstered my pistol, hoping I wasn’t about to get shot back. “Like I was about to say before getting interrupted, it’s a modern age. I don’t need a lot of muscle to pull a trigger.”
Parviz’s eyes swept the heckler, then me. Traders knew the worth of things. And they knew when they were getting a bargain, too. “We’re leaving from the West Gate at dawn. Don’t be late.”
Jin was at my side, pulling his shirt on over his head, as Parviz disappeared. “Did you just shoot someone?”
“I got us hired, if that’s what you’re asking.” I scratched the back of my head and tried to look sheepish. I was sure I wasn’t successful judging by the look Jin was giving me. “And I only shot his glass.”
Jin hooked one arm around my shoulder, leaning on me. “I knew I liked you, Bandit.”
And then came that grin. I might have traitor eyes, but Jin had the sort of smile that would turn over whole empires to the enemy-that made me feel like suddenly I understood him exactly, even though I knew nothing about him. The kind that made me feel like if I was on the right side of it, we could do anything together. I had the next six weeks to find out if that was true.