Rebel of the Sands

Rebel of the Sands

If you’ve been following for me for a while, you may have heard me mention this book once or twice already. Rebel of the Sands is Alwyn Hamilton’s debut novel and is the first book of a planned trilogy. It’s a fantasy story that combines the magic of Arabian Nights with the gun-totting action of the Wild West. I’m reviewing this book based on an advanced copy provided by Faber & Faber and so please be aware that some details may differ from the published version.

Amani Al’Hiza wants nothing more than to escape from Dustwalk. The factory town is miles away from anywhere and she knows that if she remains, she’s destined to be wed to her Uncle. Her dream is to run away to the distant city of Izman where she believes that life will be better. But such a trip requires money that she does not have.

Dressing as a boy, she enters in a backstreet shooting contest in the hope of winning the jackpot by defeating the town champion. It is here that she first meets Jin, a foreigner who is as good with a pistol as she is. When a fight breaks out, Jin and Amani help each other flee. She recognises him as someone who might finally help her escape Dustwalk but Jin has some pretty big secrets of his own.

It is not long before the army ride into town, searching for people who have allied themselves with the Rebel Prince against the Sultan. When Jin is named as a traitor, Amani finds herself fleeing across the desert with him on the back of a magical horse. Although she dreamed of escape, Amani quickly discovers that life outside of Dustwalk is far more dangerous than she could have ever imagined. War is brewing and if she’s not careful, she could find herself right in the middle of it…

Ever since I first heard about this novel, I’ve been really eager to get my mitts on a copy. Its setting is truly original. Hamilton’s biggest strength is her ability to create a solid world. Miraji is utterly breath-taking in scope. It neatly combines the East and the West, merging the two cultures into one incredibly imaginative whole.

Miraji a world of Djinni and illusion – horses that can melt into a desert storm, immortal creatures that can grant wishes (usually at a hefty price), scorching deserts and Sultans with vast harems. Yet it is also a world of shootouts, train heists and dusty taverns. I’ve never read another novel like it and I mean that in the best possible way. Miraji is just spectacular. Hamilton goes to great lengths to describe its various cultures, its religions and its legends. Everything fitted together so neatly that I felt as though I was actually there.

The plot grows increasingly complex as the story progresses. While it starts off as a rather straightforward tale about a teenage girl trying to escape her destiny, things change as Amani finally leaves Dustwalk and begins to learn more about the Prince’s rebellion against the Sultan. Rebel of the Sands is one of those novels where you really need to pay attention and remember everything that’s said. Often, tiny things that seem insignificant turn out to be vitally important later on.

Because of this, its twists are very strong. The foundation for them is placed very early in the story but it’s very easy to miss them on the first read through. I won’t spoil anything for you here (seriously, you really should read this novel for yourself) but I do really love twists of this kind. It always annoys me when a twist comes entirely out of left-field. It’s much more satisfying when they’re hinted at so subtly that you don’t even register them on the first read through. I’m really looking forward to re-reading this novel just to see how much I overlooked the first time round.

However, while the plot is action-packed and I did struggle to put the book down, I did enjoy the first half of the story the most. Amani’s escape from Dustwalk and flight across the desert was nail-biting stuff but the novel does slow down over the second half of the story. This part of the novel is a little strangely paced. Amani undergoes a lot of character development over a very short period of time and it’s a lot more dialogue-heavy than the early chapters. However, the novel does still ramp up to an intense climax that left me longing for the sequel.

There were also a couple of small problems with the prose that I really hope will be fixed before publication. Sometimes, characters express things about Amani that I didn’t really feel were covered sufficiently in the early part of the story. In one scene, Jin comments that Amani believes herself to be immortal. While it’s true that she’s self-confident, I never really felt that she behaved overly recklessly and Amani never seemed to boast about her abilities so his outburst felt a bit unfounded. The action scenes were also sometimes a little chaotic and this made them difficult to follow. There is a sequence on a train towards the end of the novel that I had to read several times to fully understand as the lack of description made it unclear as to what was happening.

However, the characterisation in the novel was generally rather strong. For a large part of the story, the focus is fixed on Amani and Jin. While their friendship never truly builds into a relationship, the seeds are certainly laid for a future novel. And I totally rooted for them. I liked that, despite the initial attraction, it took a while for this relationship to grow. Jin’s tendency to try and deceive people and generally withhold the truth rightfully makes it hard for Amani to fully trust him. It’s not until he finally begins to be open with her that Amani can truly begin to form a bond with him.

The secondary cast does suffer a little but that’s mainly because they are introduced so late in the story. I really did like Shazad in particular and can’t wait to see what role she has to play later in the series. Hala also felt as though she had a greater story to tell. She’s a lot harsher than many of the other rebels that Amani meets and often felt overly aggressive towards the heroine. I really want to see if they will finally grow to respect, or even actually like each other.

Amani herself is, simply, a great character. She’s far from perfect and does plenty of stuff that she regrets as the novel progresses but that just serves to make her feel real. While I did like the Amani of the first half of the story the most (after a certain point in the story, she loses a little of her fire), the thing that I liked about Amani most is that she’s relatable. As the story is told in first person, the reader is always in Amani’s head. Her actions are always understandable given the horrible circumstances that she finds herself in and she never does anything that seems beyond her capabilities. She’s not the most kick-ass of young adult heroines but she was a very strong and believable female protagonist.

Well, I think that about covers it. I really do recommend Rebel of the Sands. While it’s not perfect, it is a fantastic debut novel for Hamilton. It’s a very complex novel with some great twists and a fantastically original setting. I can’t wait to read the sequel and find out where Amani’s adventures take her next.

Rebel of the Sands is due for release on 4th February and is currently available to pre-order on

6 Comments (+add yours?)

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