Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton (Proof) - "Tell me that and we'll go. Right now. Save ourselves and leave this place to burn. Tell me that's how you want your story to go and we'll write it straight across the sand."
Dustwalk is an unforgiving, dead-end town. It's not the place to be poor or orphaned or female. And yet Amani Al'Hiza must call it 'home'.
Amani wants to escape and see the world she's heard about in campfire stories.
Then a foreigner with no name turns up, and with him she has the chance to run.
But the desert plains are full of dangerous magic. The Sultan's army is on the rise and Amani is soon caught at the heart of a fearless rebellion...
An epic story of swirling desert sands, love, magic and revolution. From Goodreads.
After recently enjoying the The Wrath & the Dawn duology by Renée Ahdieh, I wanted more fantasy with a similar feel, so I eagerly picked up Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton. I've had this on my TBR for a while now, and it's so good, I wish I had picked it up sooner!
Amani lives with her aunt, uncle, his many wives and his many children in Dustwalk, a harsh town where money is hard to come by. The only reason the town hasn't fallen under is the factory that makes guns for the Sultan, who gives them to his foreign allies, the Gallans. Life is hard for Amani; her mother is dead, her aunt and uncle treat her badly, and being female, she has very few prospects. The only thing she has going for her is her secret talent with a gun. She wants to get out, but with very little money, it's difficult. Her need to leave becomes desperate when she overhears her aunt and uncle discussing that it's time for Amani to marry, her uncle expressing his desire that she marries him. She needs to flee, and she needs to do so fast, so when a stranger, Jin, saves her life and gives her the chance to escape, she grabs it with both hands. But obstacles fall in her path towards Izman, the city her mother always spoke about running to. The desert is full of creatures who would feast on her and Jin if they're discovered, and soldiers who are seeking those in alliance with the Rebel Prince, who plans to overthrow his father, the Sultan. Soon Amani finds herself caught up in an uprising that promises change and reveals truths she never would have imagined.
Aah, Rebel of the Sands is so good! So much happens in this story, you barely get a chance to relax. It's fast-paced and action packed, and so damn exciting! I love the world Hamilton has created in this series. It's a world that is inspired by the Middle East / South Asia, so there's not a single white person is this whole story. It's so wonderful to read fantasy outside of the usual Medieval British inspired world, and have world building based on a different culture. I loved the folklore Hamilton wove into the story, with the world having it's own stories, it's own myths and legends, of the Djinn, First Beings and immortals. I loved reading all the stories about specific Djinn, and the various creation stories people believed. These people have their own religion and religious holidays - Shihabian, a day to celebration and prayer, when at midnight for a few moments, all light goes out; no stars, no moon, no fire, no lanterns, just complete and total darkness, to remember when the Destroyer of Worlds brought the endless night. It's all just so fascinating, and there's so much detail. It has a slight Arabian Nights feel to it, but these are stories, myths and legends that Hamilton created herself, stories within a story, and it gives this world a real history and culture. Hamilton really put the work into creating this world.
Rebel of the Sands is also a feminist story. In Amani's world, women and girls are treated so badly. Men want sons not daughters, because girls are weak and weak minded. Men have numerous wives, and the women have no say in who they marry. This is a world where women fear when the Gallan army come through their towns, because the soldiers are known to rape women. And if you've been raped, you get treated despicably by people, including your own husband, for being a "foreigner's whore". And any children you bear as a consequence of being raped, like Amani, are also ill-treated. Women are beaten and abused, and this is the norm. This is Amani's life.
So it's completely understandable that she would want to escape. As it is she is beaten for any by her aunt - her mother's sister - for any toe she puts out of line, and now her uncle has his sights set on her becoming his next wife. She's already suffered so much, at the hands of her mother's husband, who she called father, then with the death of her mother, and now with how she is treated by her aunt and uncle. She can't accept that this is her life, and she is determined to get out. Amani is so brave and so strong, and has a quick, smart mouth. She's funny, but more, she's inspiring. She's good with a gun because she would practise over and over shooting bottles in secret, and the book starts with her entering a shooting competition as a boy in an attempt to win money that will help her get her out of Dustwalk. It's there that she meets Jin, the strange foreigner who's about to change her life.
There's only one thing that's wrong with this novel; I wish it was longer. It's 358 pages, but with fairly large font, so you find yourself flying through Rebel of the Sands faster than expected. No matter how fast or slow you read, if you could set aside a day just for reading, I'm pretty sure you would get through this book in a day, easy. As well as being a quick read, it's also really fast-paced, as I said. At one point, a fair bit into Amani's journey with Jin, between one chapter and the next, six weeks have gone by. Over the next few chapters, six weeks is two months. Later in the book, when Amani meets more people, a chapter starts a week after the last finished. Amani forms relationships with Jin and these characters over all this time, but we don't get to see those relationships develop. As a result, I don't feel I know very many characters beside Amani that well, even Jin. It made it difficult to get behind the romance, because I don't really know why either like the other, because I didn't see enough of their friendship developing. It makes high stakes and emotional moments later in the story difficult to be as invested in, because I don't know the various characters well enough to care that much. It bugged me, because there's a moment that should have been a much bigger deal to me than it was, and although I was affected, I wasn't affected anywhere near as much as I should have been. So I would have preferred Rebel of the Sands to have been longer, so we get to see those relationships develop. At the moment, Amani is really the only character I care about.
Despite that, I still really enjoyed Rebel of the Sands! There was a twist I was absolutely not expecting at all that has me really intrigued, and the ending was fantastic, though it happened maybe a little too quickly. I am so excited for the second book in the series, Traitor to the Throne! I just hope this one is a little longer.
Thank you to Faber & Faber for the proof.
Published: 4th February 2016
Publisher: Faber & Faber
Alwyn Hamilton's Tumblr
Rebel of the Sands Website