Traitor to the Throne by Alwyn Hamilton
Book Two of the Rebel of the Sands series
Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: March 7, 2017
Rating: 4 stars
Source: eARC from Edelweiss
Summary (from Goodreads):
Mere months ago, gunslinger Amani al'Hiza fled her dead-end hometown on the back of a mythical horse with the mysterious foreigner Jin, seeking only her own freedom. Now she's fighting to liberate the entire desert nation of Miraji from a bloodthirsty sultan who slew his own father to capture the throne.
When Amani finds herself thrust into the epicenter of the regime—the Sultan's palace—she's determined to bring the tyrant down. Desperate to uncover the Sultan's secrets by spying on his court, she tries to forget that Jin disappeared just as she was getting closest to him, and that she's a prisoner of the enemy. But the longer she remains, the more she questions whether the Sultan is really the villain she's been told he is, and who’s the real traitor to her sun-bleached, magic-filled homeland.
Forget everything you thought you knew about Miraji, about the rebellion, about djinni and Jin and the Blue-Eyed Bandit. In Traitor to the Throne, the only certainty is that everything will change.
What I Liked:
I've seen reviews from both ends of the spectrum - both positive and negative, satisfied and disappointed. Sequels can be tricky because you'll find a lot of second books in a trilogy, in Young Adult literature, that are awful. This "sequel slump" happens a lot and it's so annoying. But I'm happy to say that I personally did not think that this book suffered from sequel slump. I enjoyed the story very much and I'm looking forward to reading the third novel.
This sequel novel begins approximately six months after the end of Rebel of the Sands. Amani is working with the Rebellion, and constantly putting herself at risk for the cause. She is unexpectedly captured and taken to the Sultan. He has found a way to control her, and so he traps her in his palace. She is under his protection but she is forced to reside in the harem. But being in the palace can work to Amani's advantage - she begins to uncover secrets of the Sultan's, that will help the Rebellion. With a little outside help - and inside help too - Amani begins to feed the Rebellion coveted information. But in a palace and deception and lies, Amani must not underestimate the Sultan - or anyone. She quickly discovers that it is those that seem harmless that are the most dangerous.
At first, I was a little put out when I realized that most of this book would take place in the Sultan's palace, and that Amani would be separated from the group... and living in a harem, under the Sultan's total control. BUT, a couple of things about this. The Sultan has no interest in Amani, except for her Demdji power (she can't speak lies, etc.). Furthermore, he forces her to call a Djinni, but beyond that, he doesn't really make her do much that is totally awful. Do you get what I'm saying? Despite Amani being forced out of her ability (control sand), she isn't forced to do anything horrible, which is one of the things I was afraid of.
Another thing I was afraid of was Amani living in the harem... where the Sultan's heir, Kadir, often frequents. He has like, four wives, and he immediately sets his attentions on the blue-eyed Demdji. But Amani is never forced to do anything against her will, with Kadir or anyone else. I probably would have screamed for the entire world to hear me, if sexual assault or rape made its way into this book. Amani was untouched, I promise!
The third thing I was afraid of was the massive separation. Amani is in the Sultan's palace for MONTHS. But... so much happens at the Palace under Amani's watch, so it didn't really feel like months, and the tone of the story didn't feel desperate or panicky, for Amani. Her time at the palace was never unsafe or particularly dangerous, though there were a few close calls. A whole host of characters are introduced in the palace, some awful, some valuable allies. In any case, the separation isn't so bad because the story really captured my attention, Yes, Amani is separated from Jin and the others for a long time - but so much happens during that time, it doesn't feel hopeless.
And besides, the story has a sandwich-like quality to it. It starts with Amani being with Jin and the rest of the Rebellion group (Shazad, Ahmed, the twins, etc.). Then Amani is captured and taken to the palace. And then, after most of the book, Amani is reunited with some of the Rebellion group. I won't say specifics with the exception of Jin - I feel like I have to say that. Amani and Jin are reunited towards the end. I'll get to them in a bit.
I love how complex and complicated the author has made the story, with this sequel. The plot thickens! At the palace, we're introduced to several of the Sultan's fifty billion children, and the entire ridiculous harem, and many foreign diplomats and politicians. We learn a lot about the Sultan, who has Amani call a Djinni. We get to see betrayal after betrayal, with some characters playing a double role and beyond. It's not only about the Rebellion trying get the throne to Ahmed and unseat the Sultan - there are darker, more infinite forces at work (captured Djinn, for one).
The romance - okay, I'll talk about the romance. I mentioned that Amani and Jin are together in the beginning, and in the end. In the beginning Amani is angry with Jin because he went off to do some undercover work for the Rebellion... as she was bleeding to death. This was a few months before this book started, but months after Rebel of the Sands ended. Amani is angry with him for leaving her, and then she gets captured, and all of this angst lays between them. But I promise, when they reunite, they hash things out, and they find their way. Amani and Jin have a mess between them, but it's their mess, and while they run when they're scared, they always come back (this is more figurative than literal, though it's a bit of both, really).
No love triangle. There is nothing triangular about the primary romance in this book - it's Amani and Jin all the way. There are other "sub-romances" among secondary characters, which is cool. But I'm mostly glad that Hamilton didn't touch the main ship. Amani and Jin definitely get closer, even with the massive separation. The reunion scenes and the ones following are so sweet and heartwarming.
Speaking of secondary characters, there are so many new characters introduced to the story. At one point, it was a little overwhelming. But the important ones - Rahim (one of the Sultan's sons), Sam (an informant for the Rebellion, and a shameless flirt who is hilarious), even Leyla (Rahim's sister and fellow offspring of the Sultan) - stuck in my mind, and were hard to forget. Some old secondary characters show up, like Shira and Tamid. And then there constant secondary characters, like Shazad and Ahmed and Imin and Hala and Delila - I love this group so much. Shazad is so kickbutt and fierce, and I especially loved her role in this book.
Jin - Jin is one of my characters, despite him being sparse in this book (remember, that is because Amani is at the palace and not near Jin, for the most of the book. Given that the book is told from her first-person POV, we don't get to see a lot of Jin in this book). Jin is still so important to the story. I love how he is like Amani, in that they are both fighters and yet they are both prone to running when things get too difficult. But I like that they both work on this, in the end. Jin is so fiercely loyal to Amani, and so very in love with her. But he is more than a love interest, and this is clear, given his role away from her (when she was in the palace).
Amani grows in her way, given what she has to live with, in the harem. So many jealous wives who want to destroy her, and people in general who think she is a monster - Amani always had thick skin, but living in the palace is an entirely different experience for her. Even being trapped there with no Demdji ability, Amani is powerful. She is clever and intelligent. I liked seeing her character grow and mature, especially without her sandy gift. Keep in mind, that loss is not permanent. Hint hint.
I think I've gushed enough! I know others struggled this one (too slow, too boring, too much separation, too few scenes between Amani and Jin), but I liked it a lot and I think it did the series justice. I love Rebel of the Sands a little more, but I think this one was an excellent follow-up. Props to Hamilton for not ending this book in a cliffhanger (not really, anyway). The ending is actually a pretty good one, given that it's the ending of a book two (usually the end of book two's are all sorts of cruel and unusual).
What I Did Not Like:
Read my comments above, about the separation. However, of course I'm going to put it down as a dislike. In general, I hate the whole separate-the-female-and-male protagonist crap that YA authors like to include in sequels (specifically book two of a trilogy). I'm so over that trope. The separation wasn't terrible in this book, and the romance is stronger than ever by the end, but still. I hate the separation trope, it's annoying. It definitely served a good purpose here, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.
For that matter, I expect many, many swoony (and hopefully a little steamy) scenes between Amani and Jin in book three.
Would I Recommend It:
If you like YA desert fantasies, or epic fantasy in general, this is definitely a book (and series for you). I loved Rebel of the Sands and I personally don't think this book disappoints at all. Of course, you should find out for yourself - because I can definitely see where those with negative/so-so reviews are coming from. This one is a long book but it's such a good story!
4 stars. This book did exactly what a sequel should do - go deeper into plot, and set up for an epic showdown for book three. I am so excited to read book three! Hopefully we get it in our hands in March 2018, because I don't think I'll be able to survive for longer than that!
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