Rebel of the Sands (Review)

Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton is a surprisingly refreshing mash-up of the Wild West and Arabian Nights. The main character, Amani, is a self-taught sharpshooter who’s desperate to escape her hateful aunt’s family and the rebelofthesandsoppressive little town she’s lived in all her life. She finds her chance when her path crosses with the enigmatic and handsome (this IS YA, y’know) Jin and pretty soon, they‘re on the run. In between dodging soldiers and explosions (there are a LOT of explosions in this book), there’s plenty of sarcasm, secrets, magic, and, of course, romance.

Rebel reminded me of Stacy Jay’s Princess of Thorns . Besides basic plot similarities (both feature an action girl heroine who spends a good chunk of the book disguised as a boy partnered up on a highly dangerous road trip with a good-looking boy. Sassy romance, marred by secrets, ensues), both books take established folklore and settings and re-use them in new and interesting ways. Both also include generous doses of typical “YA tropes,” but in such a well-executed way that the reader doesn’t roll her eyes.

Whereas Princess of Thorns dug into the dark side of classic fairytales, Rebel of the Sands draws from Middle Eastern folklore, building a world with a unique feel. (We also get hints of other lands with their own unique magic and environments. Whether or not the series ever takes us there, it’s wonderful to feel that the world is wider than the pages of the book.)  The mythical creatures we meet (Buraqi–sort of demon-horses–and Skinwalkers among them) are intriguing, and the magic system seems well-thought out. The explanations for how the world works are woven through stories and mythologies, but, unfortunately, it still feels over-explained, although a few details may slip under the reader’s radar until critically moments. There are also half-Djinn with magical abilities. When they’re mentioned early on, they seem eerie and mystical, but when they’re finally shown “on page,” they seemed much more like fantasy X-Men. Sadly, I’ve read too many stories with fantasy X-Men, and the last one (The Young Elites) quite turned me off to the whole thing.

Although at times, it feels all too easy to predict where things are heading, it’s a delightful ride, and Hamilton manages to thrown a few true curveballs at the reader along the way. I also admired her for being willing to actually sacrifice characters, even if I felt like some of them should have been better developed in order for the reader to truly feel the pain.

Overall, a great read, and one I’ll definitely be checking out the sequel to. Four stars.

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~ by Morgan Star on May 31, 2016.

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