BOOK REVIEW: Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton
Faber & Faber
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell
Amani Al’Hiza has lived in Dustwalk her whole life, the last twelve months under her uncle’s roof. She’s always been too stubborn for her own good, and her uncle has decided that the best way to tame her is to make her one of his wives.
If she didn’t need to get out of Dustwalk before, she certainly does now.
If I climbed past the buildings, I’d be able to look across the sand and scrub all the way home to Dustwalk, though there’d be nothing but dark houses. Dustwalk got up and went down with the sun. Good honest behaviour didn’t belong to the dark hours of the night. If it were possible to die of boredom, everyone in Dustwalk would be corpses in the sand.
She’s a sharp-shooter and sure as hell no damsel in distress. But travelling anywhere within this world is difficult for a woman. Women aren’t allowed to have their own dreams or goals. Heck, having their own thoughts isn’t well-liked by the menfolk, either. But Amani has never been one to sit back and deal. She wants to go out there and make her own life, to find a world where she can exist without fear of being negotiated over like property.
When she sees her chance to run, she doesn’t have time to think and second-guess.
For a second it looked like a mortal horse. The next it was pure sand. Shifting from bright gold to violent red, fire and sun in a windswept desert. A trill of excitement that belonged to a long desert bloodline went through me. The factory had changed our ways. We weren’t tribes of the Buraqi any longer. But we still filled the desert with iron traps. When one of the trap was sprung, everyone knew what to do.
And yet, the world outside of Dustwalk is a lot more sinister than she was prepared for.
Night in the desert was different when it wasn’t on the edge of a campfire. When there was no laughter and music and storytelling from the caravan to eclipse the sounds that came from the dark. There were things that made noises underneath the sand in the desert night. Things that screamed from the mountains. Now we could hear them all.
In this world where women are property and magic roams, the best way for Amani to get where she’s going is to pretend to be a boy, and her best ally is a man from the very city she’s aiming for, a man who treats her like a human being. She’s not just property to him; she’s an amazing, sharp-shooting woman who challenges the bounds of their society and dares him to believe in fate.
Rebel of the Sands is the story of a journey. Amani knows where she would like to go; the city she and her mother dreamed of… before her mother was killed. It’s the only place she can think of where there might be a friendly face to welcome her, but if she can’t get there, then anything has to be better than Dustwalk, doesn’t it?
So, if you are the kind of person who hates a story without a specific goal, then this is probably not the read for you, but if you’re happy to read anything so long as it’s well written and has an interesting plot and interesting characters, then you’re in for one heck of a treat.
There is so much to love in these 360 pages. There’s snark, and adventure, and tales of magic, and brutality, all wrapped up in such beautiful writing. If the story had nothing going for it, I would still say it was worth reading for the writing alone, but the fact is that it’s all just beautiful. And brutal.
This is a book full of brutality, from the way women are treated by their society, through to the way the ghouls attack people, and vice versa. This is a world of men with many wives and many children, where sand sticks to everything, where the days are hot and the nights are icy, and where a sultan might just beat to death the woman he loves and declare a war on magic out of jealousy and spite, roping his whole empire into an almost endless war.
This is the kind of story that at once feels like a classic, and the magic that their world is built upon is so well thought out and convincing, that it can be hard to come to terms with the fact that there aren’t magical horses made of sand in our world.
Well… that we know of.
Rebel of the Sands is book 1 in the Rebel of the Sands series.
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