Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton
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Series: Yes, #1 in the Rebel of the Sands series
Release date: March 8th, 2016
Publisher: Viking (Penguin)
Length: 320 pages
Source: ARC from the publisher
Rating: Awesome, action-packed high fantasy
Mortals rule the desert nation of Miraji, but mythical beasts still roam the wild and remote areas, and rumor has it that somewhere, djinn still perform their magic. For humans, it’s an unforgiving place, especially if you’re poor, orphaned, or female.
Amani Al’Hiza is all three. She’s a gifted gunslinger with perfect aim, but she can’t shoot her way out of Dustwalk, the back-country town where she’s destined to wind up wed or dead.
Then she meets Jin, a rakish foreigner, in a shooting contest, and sees him as the perfect escape route. But though she’s spent years dreaming of leaving Dustwalk, she never imagined she’d gallop away on mythical horse—or that it would take a foreign fugitive to show her the heart of the desert she thought she knew.
Rebel of the Sands reveals what happens when a dream deferred explodes—in the fires of rebellion, of romantic passion, and the all-consuming inferno of a girl finally, at long last, embracing her power.
Ooo, that was awesome. Super action-packed, fun times galore, tremendous world-building. I loved the mash-up of Wild West with Arabian Nights, with djinn and rocs and mythical beings alongside guns and trains and saloons. It worked so brilliantly, and I cannot wait to see more of this world. This is definitely the sort of series where I can see that HUGE THINGS are looming in the sequels (how many books are in this series, anyway?), and I can't wait.
This book had me from tagline, truth be told. More gunpowder than girl. I mean, first off, hell yes. My kinda girl. And secondly, I LOVE secondary fantasy worlds with technology. Give me magic and guns and I am a very happy reader. And I must saw, for basically all of Rebel of the Sands, I was a very happy reader. Seriously, my first thoughts upon opening to book and diving into Amani's voice and the hardscrabble desolation of the towns of Deadshot and Dustwalk, and then getting a sense of the magical legends of the desert surrounding them were basically
Amani has a sharp tongue and is an even sharper shot. She comes from a dead end town at the edge of the desert where everything is terrible, and she's desperate to escape. When she gets a chance, she takes it, rather ruthlessly. I love ruthlessness in a girl. She tangles fates with a handsome foreigner named Jin to get the hell outta Dodge, but she's in for far more than she bargained for, because she doesn't yet know she's a main character in a sweeping story about empires and sultans, magic and war, and mysterious rebel princes.
I wasn't like deeply, deeply invested in the characters or the romance the way I can get--because lord knows, I can get daaaaangerously invested in my made up friends--but I still loved them very much and very much enjoyed the ship. (I mean, hot tattooed Asian love interest with a dangerous smile. Yes please.) (I say Asian in that he's from a fantasy culture inspired by China, but obvs since this is high fantasy he's not ACTUALLY Asian) Kick-butt gunslinging girl with the nickname the Blue-Eyed Bandit, because she has traitor blue eyes--a gift from the invading foreigner who impregnated her mother. Again, the characters didn't infect my heart all the way, but I was still incredibly invested in their story, particularly at the end, when everything went BOOM.
The plot never stops, which is amazing. Huge kudos to Alwyn for always keeping the stakes continually ramping, because that shizz is haaaard. There's always a thickening to the plot or a twist in the maze, which makes this a massively entertaining read all the way through (though it loses its Western-ness pretty thoroughly by the end, which I kind of missed). But once it hits...certain parts...that's when I felt emotionally connected on a deeper level. There are new characters, and there are fun character reveals (like, serious reveals that left me saying NO SHIT aloud in my room).
And then it all comes together in the end for some dramatic, action-y awesomeness. I can't wait to learn more about the characters who'll def play huge parts in the sequel.
I guess my biggest qualm is that it's a short book, and I would not have minded a bit more emotional fleshing out in certain places, because I'm that sort of reader. The pace is amazing, I know. It's one of the book's strengths that it never lags and yet STILL somehow gives you a pretty full sense of world building, but I don't mind settling into certain places in a narrative a little longer. There's a two month stretch of bonding that vanishes in a few paragraphs, for example. Also, once Amani gets...urgh, spoilers...well, a lot of characters enjoy speaking in info dumps about their pasts pretty easily.
But seriously, those are my only complaints. I absolutely loved reading this one. The writing is incredible, the plot is engrossing, and it's just a plain fun read. I'll def be ordering myself a finished copy because LOOK HOW PRETTY IT IS AND I BET IT'S ALL SHINY TOO