Review: Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

Oh fantasy, how I have missed thee!

Although I found my *summer of Sarah Dessen* both incredibly enlightening and thoroughly delightful, I must say that it felt really good to get back to my usual escape. What’s so great about the fantasy books is that they can cover every day themes (such as family relations, overcoming obstacles, etc.), while adding a little something extra (e.g. magic or the supernatural, etc.), which I find gives it a little more of that wow factor. So given that Rebel of the Sands is Alwyn Hamilton’s debut in the published world, I can say I was sufficiently wowed.

(Hamilton, 2016a)

A Little About the Author

What is even more surprising is that she’s only 26 years old! Younger than me and seemingly a lot more accomplished! *tears* Well, hard work definitely pays off! Born in the land of Beavers and maple syrup (Canada, where I’m from!), she moved around both Canada and Europe as child before her family finally settled in France. She then pursued her studies in History of Art at King’s College, Cambridge University and then started working at an auction house in London. Other than mentioning that she is tone-death and has a love for fantasy, hardcovers, and cross-dressing heroines, there is not much else about her on the World Wide Web.

(Hamilton, 2016a)

Granted this is her debut novel, it would be nice if she gave us more information than that. However, her quirky description of herself on her website is endearing and I can’t wait to learn more about her! I guess that’ll come with time. Now let’s talk about her chef-d’oeuvre.

Rebel of the Sands

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Flight or death. Those are Amani Al’Hiza’s only two options. Marrying her uncle definitely isn’t one of them. However, getting out of Dustwalk might not be so easy. Miraji is all desert, and what lurks in it can be more dangerous and magical than just sand. But when Amani meets Jin, a mysterious foreigner, at a shooting contest, she thinks he just might be her ticket out. Yet it soon becomes apparent that the true test is not in getting to Izmani to her aunt, but in giving into her nature, all the while resisting falling for her mysteriously dangerous Jin.

(Hamilton, 2016b)

My Thoughts

Confession: I was initially drawn to the book by its cover. I know, I know, never judge a book by its cover. But I’d be lying if I said that’s not what caught my attention. The summary on the author’s website didn’t give away much (and neither did the book jacket), and I wasn’t sure I’d be into it. Gun toting teen goes on a desert rampage, were along the lines of what I was thinking. Although I respect everyone’s rights and freedoms, I personally am not pro-gun, so reading about the Blue-Eyed Bandit at a gun show wasn’t exactly what I was interested in. So although it was only the artwork that drew me in, I decided to give it a chance anyway. And when I started reading? Well, it didn’t seem so bad after all. Then Jin happened.

It would be far from the truth if I said I wasn’t into bad boys. Although the landscape is different (mythical world and sand), bad boys are a universal concept, and in Rebel of the Sands, Jin fits the persona well – mysterious, gorgeous, dangerous, mischievous… The kind that you know you should stay away from, as he’ll only lead to trouble, but can’t help it. This is exactly what happens to Amani, and I soooo ship it:

And then his body was flush against mine, pushing my back against the wall of the train. I was a desert girl. I thought I knew heat.

(Hamilton, 2016b, p. 113)

Fire. We all need a bad boy like Jin in our lives. Would it be awful if I said he’s what makes the story? Ugh. And the dreamy things he says!

“You are this country, Amani… More alive than anything ought to be in this place. All fire and gunpowder, with one finger always on the trigger.”

(Hamilton, 2016b, p. 252)

If you aren’t already in love, you and I cannot be friends (kidding! … or am I?).

Anyway, other than Jin, what I loved about this story was her focus on the Demji –  the offspring of the djinn and human women. All human but marked in some way that makes them recognizable as the children djinn (oddly coloured hair or skin, for example), they are all gifted with some kind of power. I know, sounds a bit like the malfetto in the Young Elites series by Marie Lu. However, I find Hamilton was able to pull aspects from many inspirations (maybe inadvertently) and make them her own. For example, the description on the books jacket is fairly apt – Arabian nights meets Wild West is definitely how I would describe it.

(Hamilton, 2016a).

The magic, the djinn, the demji, the ghouls are definitely reminiscent of Arabian nights, and our gun toting heroine definitely makes you think of a Western. Furthermore, for all of you comic book lovers out there, one of the demji we encounter’s powers evoke a resemblance to the of the Sandman in DC comics. In short, despite these similarities, I found her wildly imaginative, and it definitely made for an entertaining read. I know I definitely had a hard time putting this book down!

There is a theme in Rebel of the Sands that I feel is worth noting.The theme is fairly prevalent in YA, and I think is important for all young adults out there – and that’s the yearning and striving to be more than the circumstances you are in. Wow, how unclear is that? Haha. Let me try to explain. Amani is born in a small town, in which she basically has no rights (an unfortunate plight many young girls suffer from in our world today). She is a girl, and girls are not taken seriously and cannot make decisions for themselves. If she stays in Dustwalk, she will be forced to marry either her uncle or another suitor (not of her choosing). What she wants, more than anything, is to escape to Izmani, where her aunt lives. However, she doesn’t have the freedom to do so. So she disguises herself as a boy, in order to be able to enter a shooting contest and win some money to escape. Throughout this whole novel, Amani is defying what is “acceptable” for a girl to do, in order to forge her own path and make her own destiny. To be more than what her society dictates she should be. However, I feel Amani really struggles with this, and I believe many teens can empathize in some way with her struggle. I can’t say much more without giving anything away, but suffice it so say that I think that many young adults out there can take some inspiration from this and try to break their own molds, to strive to be great despite their circumstances, and to believe in themselves as they do so.

On the downside, I found that there was a very choppy sentence structure. I know that it is very common (or perhaps a requirement) in YA to make simpler sentence structures.  I personally found it slightly robotic at times. I do, however, forgive Hamilton this one flaw, and I can only imagine that it will get better as more of her novels get published!

Overall, I greatly enjoyed this book. It’s not what I expected it to be and I’m glad it turned out this way. Although fantastic in nature, it still covers real world themes (some of which I didn’t discuss, as I didn’t want to spoil the whole novel, but leave to you to find out about) that many young readers out there can relate too. There is a sufficient amount of passion in the love story aspect, without going too overboard, and it’s also a lot of fun. I definitely recommend it and look forward to the other books in the series. Hats off to you, Ms. Hamilton!

Sincerely,
The Struggling Librarian

References
Hamilton, A. (2016a). Alwyn Hamilton. Retrieved from http://alwynhamilton.com/
Hamilton, A. (2016b). Rebel of the sands. USA: Viking.