Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton: Review

So last week’s tube read was *drumroll*

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Title: Rebel of the Sands

Author: Alwyn Hamilton

Pages: 358

Amazon, Waterstones, Foyles

“Tell me that and we’ll go. Right now. Save ourselves and leave this place to burn. Tell me that’s how you want your story to go and we’ll write it straight across the sand.” Dustwalk is Amani’s home. The desert sand is in her bones. But she wants to escape. More than a want. A need. Then a foreigner with no name turns up to save her life, and with him the chance to run. But to where? The desert plains are full of danger. Sand and blood are swirling, and the Sultan’s enemies are on the rise.

Here’s another book I bought and read off the back of an event I attended at Waterstones Piccadilly. Alwyn was a really engaging panel chair and I loved the snippets I heard about her books so I thought I’d give this one a go.

First things first, DEBUT NOVEL ALERT. Yes, I’m new to the party as this was published in 2016 but let me have my moment. Rebel of the Sands doesn’t feel like a debut. It’s certainly a solid first novel. It took a little bit of warming up to but I’m now converted.

This novel follows Amani pursuing her one dream in life; to escape her dead-end desert town and her dead-end desert life for better fortunes in the city. Initially it’s her single driving force and, by God, does she go after it with everything she has. I can’t praise Alwyn Hamilton enough for creating such a kick-ass, plucky protagonist. Amani has fire, drive and skill which all add up to make her extremely likeable. She has clearly got the hang of only relying on herself and, for the most part, she is more than capable of dealing with things on her own. Amani’s character development is great too. At the beginning of the novel she seems very put together with a very clear plan and apparently endless alternative routes should something not go quite right. However the more the story unravels the more we realise she is kind of figuring it out as she goes along and the story becomes, not only a physical journey but, a journey to find herself and to find her place in the world. In the end, she really doesn’t know herself as well as she thinks she does. Throughout, she has to deal with the constant battle of trying to be herself when being female seems to be the most worthless attribute in the desert, but she does it with fire, fight and wit that comes as a constant surprise to those around her.

The other characters are wonderful too. Amani’s best friend, Tamid, is too sweet for words and too precious for YA narratives. Jin, the mysterious foreigner that Amani eventually ends up dragging along for the ride, is a very complex and layered character who we have to try to unravel and second guess along with Amani. Most of my favourite characters arrive much closer to the end of the book and I can’t wait to learn more about them when I read the sequel.

In terms of plot, this is another thing I really enjoyed. Due to Amani’s goal, the plot seemed to be heading in a very clear direction but that changed and warped effortlessly into the complete opposite direction. We went from a simple ‘wanting to make a new life for yourself’ narrative to dragging Amani into the heart of a rebellion that she had only really heard about through campfire stories. She becomes somewhat of a reluctant heroine but she a ‘champ,’ for want of a better word, and one of those characters you just want to scoop up into a hug. The first one hundred pages or so I actually found rather slow. It was lucky I was reading it on my commutes because I don’t think I could have held any real concentration for an extended period of time. I was impatient. I was being given far too many questions with not enough answers. The world building was a very slow progression and as such I was finding it hard to connect with the book and paint any image of anything in my head. However, once I got past that little section, the action really ramped up and my questions began to get answered. Eventually we find out an absolute tonne about the inner workings of the world the characters live in, including their complex society, beliefs system and their myths and legends. The depth of knowledge and backstory Alwyn drip fed into the last two thirds of the novel was really excellent. We all know I massively appreciate a huge backstory. There’s still plenty of room left behind to fill in more with later novels, but that makes sense because the book is written in first person and we’re only finding things out at the same time Amani is. As I said earlier, it turns out she really doesn’t know as much as she thinks she does.

I’m really glad that I decided to buy this book and persevere with it when I was too impatient at the beginning. It’s really well written and was very easy to get lost in once I finally got into it. I’m really looking forward to reading the next one and recommend you give Rebel of the Sands a go. If you do read it, let me know what you think!!

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