Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton is a debut YA novel — and wow is it an incredible first book from this author! I anticipated it so very extraordinarily highly that I was slightly nervous going in. Did it live up to my expectations? DEFINITELY YES. It was a glorious conglomeration of Persian fantasy, magic horses, sass, and guns…and I absolutely loved it.
The story is about Amani, who is a sharpshooter living with extended family who despise her. She dreams of an adventurous life. So when a strange foreigner comes into town (and they companionably shoot each other and all that) she ends up joining in his adventure. Also there’s magic and guns and a volley of plot twists. Glorious plot twists.
It’s basically set in a dusty fantasy world with Middle Eastern influences. I was actually surprised because I rarely find modern fantasy. (It reminded me a bit of Blood Red Road actually, which I also abso-freaking-lutely love.) There are weapons factories and guns and shoot-outs — but there are also spirits and ghouls and terrible things lurking in the desert that like to rip your face off. Also sand. MUCH SAND. It actually had a cowboy western feel to it!
Amani is downright awesome. She’s the “tough heroine” who is a wicked good shot and dreams of running away from her abusive relatives to FIND HER DESTINY OF AWESOME. She’s really sassy. And she makes mistakes. Oh so. many. mistakes. But she had amazing character development too.
And of course there’s the love interest: Jin. Whom I adored. It could be because of the sass. Or that he slinks into a shooting game in the local tavern and competes against Amani and they’re so stinkin’ cute together. Or, it could be because he gets shot right at the beginning of the story and I do love a good book where everyone is bleeding. Ahem.
Jin was at my side…”Did you just shoot someone?”
“I got us hired, if that’s what you’re asking. And I only shot his glass.”
Jin hooked one arm around my shoulder, leaning on me. “I knew I liked you, Bandit.”
Also the actual storyline did not disappoint at all! It’s fast paced, too, and the fact that it fits an entire complex world into 330-pages is immensely pleasing to me. I love small fantasy worlds that pack a punch of awesome and don’t waffle on. This has epic world building. Epic mythology. Epic settings. (Although it did have a tendency to info-dump in the form of folklore tales occasionally.)
The plot twists are intense and exciting! Although I did predict the biggest one. Not sure if I’m a genius or it was too obvious (let’s assume the first one, right?!) And at times I did get a bit lost with all the characters and why they were killing each other. I hope more is explained about the wars in the next book!
All in all: This book was AMAZING and I cannot recommend it enough. I’m really thrilled about the Persian culture influences, too, because there aren’t enough books out like this! Plus magic and shooting cowboy-esque characters and intense action scenes?! What could be better!?
“You’re going to get us both killed if you go off looking for this on your own, you know. And if I was going to die on account of you, I’d rather have done it weeks ago before I had to do all this walking.”