Review: Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

RebeloftheSandsRebel of the Sands
Alwyn Hamilton
Viking Books for Young Readers
Released March 8, 2016
320 pages

5 stars

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.

Wow, I loved this book! I think part of what did it for me was that I wasn’t really expecting it. Other than reading A Gathering of Shadows, some of my book choices lately have been only ok (Into the DimThe Chapel Wars, and The Shadow Queen). I knew I had two days before some of my preorders arrived, so I looked to see which was shorter – this book or The Forbidden Orchid. This book won.

Almost as soon as I started though, I was hooked. I’ve read other “Westerns” lately, but this one was different. Yes, there were endless treks across the desert, train robbers, campfires and storytelling, but there is also magic and monsters and show-off gun shooting and lots of action. You are rooting for Amani from the beginning, as soon as she steps into the pistol pit, dressed as a boy, and forced to shoot two bottles with one bullet to  stay in the competition. There she meets a mystery boy, the “Eastern Snake,” and though a relationship develops later on, I never felt this was a case of instal-love. Amani and the boy have their own goals and they are willing to pursue those goals alone if they have to. But lucky for us, their paths align, at least for now.

It may be a happy coincidence that I read this on International Women’s Day. Amani was GREAT. She was really struggling with her home life in Dustwalk. Her mother was gone and her aunt and female cousins weren’t always nice to her. In spite of this, she doesn’t really temper who she is. She’s got a sharp tongue and snide comments and though she knows they get her in trouble, she doesn’t really hold back. She says what she thinks and questions things. She’s suspicious and determined and resourceful and ready to find a better situation for herself. She does not want to be trapped in her small town and wind up “wed or dead” or both, like in her mother’s case.

I don’t really want to ruin this for anyone, so I don’t know how much else to say. Amani grows. She finds people that do have her back and she wants to help them in return. She gains allies and powers and does it in a very Amani-way.

As for the side characters, I can’t wait to see more from this series. A lot of them came in and the end and so we the readers don’t get to know them as well. Jin (the Eastern Snake) is a good counterpart to Amani. He’s ready to fight and get in trouble and put himself in death’s path. But he also appreciates his family and Amani (which she needs). There is one point in the novel that Amani looks in a mirror and her description of herself is very intriguing/strange (go read it for yourself). But Jin also points out things to Amani about herself, things that she doesn’t really know or acknowledge until she is faced with his truths (and it’s not just the thing that sometimes so standard in YA, the oh-you’re-so-beautiful-and-you-don’t-even-know-it garbage).

Then there’s Shazad and Ahmed and Bahi and the twins and Noorsham… I’m going to stop talking and let you all go find and read this book.

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