Series: Rebel of the Sands #1
Published by Viking Books for Young Readers on March 8th, 2016
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.
Real talk, this post was supposed to be a series of mini-reviews for some recent reads that I wanted to talk about, but then I finished Rebel of the Sands and found I had a LOT to say about this book. Rebel took me completely by surprise. To be honest, I didn’t really have any interest in reading this – I had no idea what it was about and I didn’t like the cover? I don’t know, I don’t have an excuse, just bear with me. But then a friend of mine shoved it in my face like, READ IT, so I did and wow, I am so happy I gave it a chance.
Rebel of the Sands features a fantasy world unlike any I have ever read about. I mean, I know I’m a fantasy noob basically, but this idea of pairing Arabian Nights and Djinn with America’s Wild West was just so clever and so original. You have sweeping deserts with powerful Sultans and Sultim competitions, religious wars and rebellion alongside trains and mines and saloon brawls. And I had no problem at all imagining this dry and dying desert land where Amani grew up. The setting permeated every sentence, every one of Amani’s actions. I wish I could have understood the magic system just a bit more – sometimes it felt very arbitrary, especially when assigning powers to the half-mortal half-Djnni children – but at the same time I found the Djinni powers fascinating. It was interesting to see a setting that many would consider arid and empty brought to life the way Hamilton wrote it.
I loved Amani so, so much. So often, I look for a lead character who makes tough decisions to save their own skin. I think about how realistic overly selfless characterization can be, and just once I want the MC to make that selfish move that saves herself. To NOT run head on into danger to save someone else. Amani is a character who shows that complexity, that kind of ruthlessness. She’s not all bad, she does feel guilt over leaving some people behind, and she grows to learn that friendships and bonds don’t always hold you back. I loved that her character growth – from running away from something to running TOWARD something – was very realistic and even subtle. She went from a girl who was trying to escape her fate to a hero who seized her destiny, running to meet it with opens arms. So many stories feature the main character balking and backing away from their mission, but not Amani, and I really, really appreciated that about her character.View Spoiler »What I also loved about Amani was her use of her Demdji powers versus the use of her unmatched skill with a gun. She’s been the girl with the gun her whole life; she trained herself to be the best shot she possibly could be. Holding a gun is just like an extension of a limb for her. And those skills have served her well and gotten her very far in life. But that skill is the direct reason why she didn’t know she was Demdji and holding that iron gun – her means of protection, her greatest asset – means she’s unable to access her gift. It was a clash of selves inside Amani and I can’t wait to see how she deals with it in the next books. « Hide Spoiler
From the moment he appeared on the page, I fell for Jin. I have a thing for the bad-boy, wry smile, tough exterior, lots of banter type character and Jin fits that bill all without being a raging asshole which is incredible. His dynamic with Amani was interesting and kept me on my toes for the entire book. I loved how they pushed each other and I love how they sorted out conflict together. He’s really interesting and knowing what I know by the end of the book makes me even more interested in his actions and motivations at the beginning of the book. I just wish that Rebel had been longer, so we could have seen Jin and Amani grow together. There’s a point in the book where the two of them travel across the desert for six weeks – more than a month! – and we don’t get to see any of it. They come out of the journey bonded together and closer than ever, which was great, but adding in some pages there to actually see their journey, especially if they had a brush or two with death considering how “dangerous” the trip was supposed to be, would have made their bond more believable. I hardly ever ask for books to be longer, but in this case, I feel it was necessary.
Which brings me to the rest of the side characters. We’re not really introduced to permanent side characters other than the antagonists until pretty late in the game. Which is fine with me, because like I said, I liked watching Amani and Jin get to know one another (THAT FIRST KISS YO). But because they showed up so late and the book is pretty short, we didn’t get to know them as well as I liked. That’s not saying I didn’t love them, because I did. But once again, I feel like we’re to believe this unbreakable bond where they all believe in one another, and I felt that it was a bit shallow. That being said, I love the shit out of Shazad and I ship her with View Spoiler »Ahmed « Hide Spoiler a lot. Like, A LOT. Also Tragedy on the Spoiler Express fucked me up a lot.
I also have to hand it to Hamilton in the plotting of this book. Not only was the breakneck pace consuming and made it impossible to put the book down, there were two pretty big twists that I did not see coming at all. I’m the kind of reader who analyzes every line looking for plot twists and tropes in hopes of calling them before they’re finally revealed. But these two pretty major things slipped past me entirely. I did not see them coming. Hamilton was also able to take two tropes that I usually roll my eyes at, and turn them on their heads so that I was invested and wowed and just.. impressed. I’m impressed by the plotting of this story, and I’m very excited to see how twisty and turny and fun it’s going to get in later books.
This was so, so close to being 5 stars. There were issues with lightning quick bonds between the characters that didn’t feel wholly believable to me. However, the rest of this book was outstanding, particularly the characterization of Amani and the other incredible female characters she teams up with. The banter between Amani and Jin had me shipping them from pretty much the first interaction, and their kisses were unbelievable – in the best way. So even though it didn’t get the Perfect Rating, Rebel of the Sands will still go down as one of the most action packed, fun to read, and ridiculously creative fantasies I’ve ever read.