Traitor to the Throne

traitor-to-the-throne

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for Rebel of the Sands. You can read my review of this novel [here].

Traitor to the Throne was written by Alwyn Hamilton and is due for release in February of next year. It is the sequel to the hugely successful Rebel of the Sands and picks up a few months after the first book left off, with Amani and the other rebels plotting to overthrow the Sultan of Miraji. I’m reviewing this novel based on an advanced copy that was kindly provided by the publisher so please bear in mind that there may be some small changes prior to publication.

Amani’s life has been far from easy since she left Dustwalk. Now that she’s fully in control over her power to manipulate sand, she’s more important to the rebellion than ever. Her reputation as the Blue-Eyed Bandit strikes fear into the hearts of the Sultan’s men and the rebels have managed to take a firm hold over a corner of the desert. Yet, as the festival of Auraneb approaches and the Sultan prepares to renew his alliances with the leaders of the neighbouring countries, the rebels know that they must take their fight to the capital.

However, before they get their chance, their camp is attacked. In the confusion that follows, Amani is taken captive and sold to the Sultan’s harem. The Sultan does not know about her ties to the rebels but he knows that she is a Demdji – powerful and dangerous – so he does the unthinkable and implants Amani’s body with restraints of iron to remove her powers. To make matters worse still, one of these implants is engraved with her true name, the one that enables the Sultan to control her every movement.

Amani is in more danger than she has ever been in before. If the Sultan thinks to ask the right questions, she will reveal everything about her friends and the war will be lost. However, Amani’s mind is still free. She realises that she still can use her situation to her advantage by spying on the Sultan and feeding information back to her friends. It’s not long before she starts to realise that the Sultan is planning something huge – something that concerns humans, Demdji and even their immortal Djinni parents – and only she’s in a position to stop him…

If you followed me last year, you may remember that I rather enjoyed Rebel of the Sands. It was a complex and refreshingly original novel with an amazing protagonist. If you were also captivated by Hamilton’s debut, you’ll be pleased to hear that Traitor to the Throne is equally as thrilling. The plot this time around is far more political. Following an exciting opening sequence, Amani is quickly captured and thrown into the centre of the Sultan’s harem. Though decadent, this setting is really a den of snakes. Not only is Amani in constant danger of being outed as a rebel spy but she also under threat from the Sultim’s wives, all of whom feel threatened by her presence and are eager to make her disappear.

The new setting enables the reader to see the war from a completely different perspective. The previous book is told entirely from a rebel’s point of view. We saw how the Gallan armies threatened the people of poor towns like Duskwalk and first heard the story of how the Sultan murdered his way into power. Yet through Amani’s many conversations with the Sultan, we start to see that things are not quite so clear cut. Now the reader has seen the Sultan, it’s clear that he’s surprisingly like Ahmed in both appearance and philosophy. While the novel doesn’t lean far enough to make you truly sympathise with him, it does make him seem more human and make his motives seem more rational.

The novel also kept me on my toes. Hamilton is very talented when it comes to weaving an engaging story. While there is less action this time around, I enjoyed the way that this novel built and maintained tension. The story is very long by young adult terms but it never felt as though it was dragging. Early in the novel, it was revealed that the Sultan was capable of torturing people to the brink of madness. With every passing day, the stakes seemed to rise and put Amani in increasing danger of meeting the same fate.

Once again, Hamilton also proves that she is simply amazing when it comes to her twists. This novel had several, all of which were integrated perfectly into the tale and kept me guessing. She even managed to resurrect a few characters that I’d either forgotten about or assumed to be dead. While the novel this time did end on a rather abrupt cliff-hanger, I didn’t find it to be especially offensive. In fact, it made me eager to find out how the series is going to conclude. I won’t say anything more about it for fear of spoilers but, seriously, you won’t be disappointed.

Yet Traitor to the Throne didn’t quite grip me in the same way that Rebel of the Sands did. My first disappointment was the loss of the setting. The most unique thing about the first book was the way that it blended the feel of the Wild West with Arabian Nights. This time around, the scope is very narrow. After the opening mission, most of the action takes place in the harem in Izman. Because the story has moved away from the deserts and gunfights, a lot of the western influences on the story are unfortunately lost.

This book is also a lot more exposition heavy than the first. Whole chapters are dedicated to explaining character backstories and the legends of the First People. These sections are usually told in third person and so jarringly break up Amani’s usual first person narrative. I personally felt that these details could have been better integrated into the novel. Worse still was the fact that one vitally important scene occurs off page, between the end of Rebel of the Sands and the beginning of this novel. As this event plays heavily into the development of Amani and Jin’s relationship, it was incredibly frustrating that we did not see this event unfold, especially as every other character seems to be aware of what has transpired while the reader has been entirely cut out of the loop. This felt like very weak plotting.

There are also some issues in the characterisation of the principle cast. I complained last time that a lot of the Demdji characters felt a bit flat as they were introduced so late into the story last time. The trouble is, they’re also not in this novel very much either. I still don’t really feel much kinship towards Shazad, Hala, Delila and the rest because I haven’t been given much chance to care for them. Even Jin doesn’t appear much in this story, and he’s the love interest.

Yet my biggest frustration of all was Amani. Last time around, I loved her. She wasn’t portrayed as being perfect but she was relatable and strong willed. So much of the story last time focused on Amani discovering herself and her abilities. It was just disappointing that she lost this again almost immediately. To make matters worse, she was rendered almost utterly helpless. Amani last time was more than able to defend herself but the restrictions that the Sultan place on her this time remove this ability, leaving her at the mercy of everyone who wants to assault or publicly humiliate her. This left a very sour taste in my mouth and I really hope that Amani isn’t made dependant on others for protection again in the next novel.

I think that pretty much sums everything up. While I did enjoy the plot of Traitor to the Throne, I unfortunately didn’t find it quite as unique or compelling as the first novel. I am still optimistic about the final instalment, however, as I do think that the battle for the throne will make for some thrilling reading. At the very least, I am curious to see how Hamilton is going to tie up the series’s loose ends.

Traitor to the Throne is due for release on 2nd February and is currently available to pre-order on Amazon.co.uk

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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