Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton
Book One of the Rebel of the Sands series
Publication Date: March 8, 2016
Rating: 5 stars
Source: ARC sent by the publisher
Summary (from Goodreads):
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.
What I Liked:
Ahhh, I can see why this book has received so many stunningly positive early reviews so far, and why it's set to be a huge success worldwide. This book was magical! And such a fun, exciting fantasy novel. So many YA fantasy books today are so heavy and gloom-and-doom-y, save-the-world-and-claim-the-throne kinds. This book has certain elements that are typical of YA fantasy novels, but nothing like your average YA fantasy, in my opinion.
Amani desperately wants to escape the small desert town of Dustwalk. She's excellent with a gun, and she's hoping to use those skills to win some prize money and get out of the town, before her uncle marries her off. With a little help from a handsome foreigner, Amani escapes into the world outside of Dustwalk. But she isn't expecting the wild adventure that follows, tangling her up in rebellion and revolution and magic she has never seen before.
My expectations have been super high, ever since seeing this book's cover (the original one AND the new one!). It's not always smart to be excited about a book solely based on the cover, but in this case, I was justified. Kickbutt fantasy + amazing synopsis + gorgeous cover? This book has been calling to me! So I'm even more excited that it did not disappoint, because my expectations were crazy high!
Amani surprised me from the very beginning. I know we in the YA book world like to throw around phrases like "kicka** heroine", how some heroines are tough and feisty and spunky and whatnot. But Amani is a different kind of tough. She's so incredibly mouthy, and she stands in the face of danger and does not back down. I love her wild spirit, and how unafraid she is to show her temper's claws. Not that she has an angry temper - but her personality is very fiery. I love her to pieces! Her character development was a very important part of this book; as she matures as she discovers the world beyond Dustwalk.
The world-building of this book is incredible! Desert fantasies are nothing new in YA, but this desert fantasy is a little different. Guns and trains and other technology totally exist, and yet, so does Djinni and ghouls and magic. The world is also highly patriarchal, and polygamy is very common. Amani's uncle has many wives who all live together with their children... it's just of awful to read, and a bit heartbreaking. The Sultan himself has, and I quote, "more sons than there are hours in the day" (ARC, 170). While no one will like this polygamous aspect (I hope!), everyone can agree that its presence helps the authenticity and richness of the world-building.
Did I mention how much I liked the setting? No? I love desert settings. I like how the author made this desert setting very unique and almost modern, but totally not modern. We're not stuck in Dustwalk for very long, and Amani travels through many places. This book takes place over many months (at least two), and I like how the pacing felt.
Our male protagonist is Jin, who is the foreigner mentioned in the synopsis. Jin! Ah! I liked him a lot. He's charming and funny and adept in a fight. He's handsome and muscular and extremely intelligent. We don't know exactly who he is for a good part of the book, but when we find out, it came as a bit of a surprise to me. I LOVE that the author does not take a cliche route with Jin. Jin is one of my favorite characters in the book, and I was cheering him on just as much as I was cheering on Amani.
We meet many of our secondary characters in the latter half of the book, and I adore so many of them! Shazad is another strong female, in a different way. Hala too. Bahi is such a sweetie! I love the twins too. The author does an excellent with the development of the secondary characters - and what a lovely cast of characters they were.
The story captivated me, and I love how the author moved the plot. The book never seemed slow, or overwhelming. This book is the first in a trilogy, so the author did not get into the heavier parts of the fantasy in this particular book. We are introduced to the political conflicts and there are some key moves made in this book. But I liked that, despite all of that, this story remained fun and adventurous. I'm sure it'll get more calculating and threatening and fearful in the next two books, but I'm savoring the adventure that was this first book.
There is a subtle and sweet romance in this book! The synopsis alludes to it, and I'm happy to say that I love the blossoming relationship between Amani and Jin. I LOVE that they are slowly coming to understand their feelings - there are no "I love you"'s thrown around, and no one is making rash decisions for the sake of each other. The romance is so sweet, and yet, so sneaky. I foresee more swoony scenes in future books, but this one kept the romance light and sweet. Also, no love triangle in any way shape or form! Not an insinuation or speck or whiff.
No cliffhanger either! Small mercy there, because I have been hit with so many cliffhangers recently. Phew! I'm sure there will be a cliffhanger at the end of book two of the trilogy (as it usually happens), but we're safe for now!
Have I said enough to convince you? I'm going to wrap up my review a little, because I could probably go on and on. I loved this beautiful story and cannot wait to read the next book!
What I Did Not Like:
Nothing that I can think of at the moment! Maybe that we have to wait for the sequel?! Personal request there - more kissing!
Would I Recommend It:
Whether you're a YA fantasy fan or not, this is definitely NOT a book to miss. The ending is not cliffhanger-y at all, so it wouldn't hurt to start now! I so want to reread this book and experience it all over again. What a fabulous story!
4.5 stars -> rounded up to 5 stars. I can see this being a favorite at the end of the year! I don't give the five-star rating often, but I'm thinking this book deserves it!
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5 winners will receive: hardcover of REBEL OF THE SANDS, PenguinTeen tote bag, and a Shimmering Hourglass. USA only.