Rebel of the Sands is the debut novel of Alwyn Hamilton. It is a short novel at 314 pages, but sports one of the most beautiful covers I have ever seen. I picked up this book both for the beautiful cover but also for the good reviews I had read about it.
Set in a mix of Middle Eastern and Western genres, it follows the story of 16 year old Amani as she tries to leave her desert town of Dustwalk for the capital city Izman – and a better life. At the start of the story Amani is pretending to be a boy and enters a shooting contest in an effort to win a pot of money to fund her escape from an abusive aunt and an uncle who would marry her. At the contest she meets Jin, a mysterious foreigner who has hidden agendas of his own.
Circumstances do not go as planned (when do they ever?) and Amani must run away from Dustwalk with Jin. They set off across the desert to first Izman, but eventually find their way to Fahali and the Dev’s Canyon. As the story progresses, Amani learns that Jin isn’t just a foreigner but one of the Sultan’s sons and the brother of Rebel Prince Ahmed. She also learns that she is more than just a desert girl who can shoot – she is a Demdji, a child of a human mother and an immortal being known as a Djinn. And she must learn how to harness a power she never knew she had in order to help Ahmed win back the throne that is rightfully his.
What I liked about Rebel of the Sands is the weaving of Middle Eastern legend into the story. I liked the tales of the Djinni, of First Beings, ghouls and Nightmares, Skinwalkers, and the half-blooded children who have special abilities. What I didn’t really care for was the intermixing of Western pieces. The history of the Middle East no doubt sports gunfights, however it all seemed to have an American West feel to it that seemed a little out of place.
There’s also very little character development. Amani stays roughly the same character she is, even after she learns she is a Demdji and harnesses her powers. I don’t expect much in 314 pages, but it seems like there is still room for some development. And there are an awful lot of characters in such a short story. By my count, there are roughly 20 characters introduced by name in the story with some context – 7 of which either are deceased or their fate unknown by the end. I am assuming that many of these characters will play larger roles in any sequels, but it just seems too many to introduce in a first novel.
The writing is wonderful and the dialogue fun, but overall I felt the story was a bit lackluster. Will I read a sequel if one is written and released? Possibly. So far I’ve had the luck of reading what I consider mediocre first stories in a series with the rest of them making up of it. Who knows until a sequel is actually released?
My rating: 3/5