“I was reminded of Harry from The Blue Sword and of Katsa from Graceling and I was in love,” said Melissa at Book Nut. That was enough for me to put myself right on hold for this book, jumping over everything else in the queue. I regret nothing.
Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton. Viking, 2016.
The Blue Sword comparison here was apt, but this is a modern, grittier desert fantasy. Amani Al’Hiza has the typical dark skin and hair of her desert town, though her bright blue eyes make everyone think her father was not the man who raised her. He wasn’t kind, and the uncle she’s been living with since both her parents died is even less kind. As the story opens, Amani is sneaking out of that house to enter a shooting contest, hoping to use her gun skills to win enough money to leave the dead-end factory for the city, disguised as a boy, natch, since well-bred females don’t go to places like this. At the contest, she’s shooting next to a stranger, Jin, whose coloring is almost right but whose face shape is wrong. Unfortunately, Amani shoots too well to avoid attention. And when a boy in the street starts shouting about his support for the rebel prince, all hell breaks loose. Soon Amani and Jin are off on a wild adventure involving ghouls, jin, magical sand horses, and yes, a rebel prince.
So the romance is not the understated, barely visible variety that Robin McKinley was famous for – probably closer to Katsa than Harry here. It’s quite obvious to the reader, if not the characters, where things are going. The route surprised me. And there is plenty to delight in Amani’s journey. I do enjoy the lone tough female against the worl, trying her best to resist romance plot, especially when well done, as here. But the world is also nicely fleshed out, with struggles between magic and technology and very different religions clashing. There was enough of an ending to wrap things up, while leaving plenty of room for more to come. I hope there will be more soon, and that this review comes somewhere close to conveying how very enjoyable this book is.
Pair this with E.K. Johnston’s A Thousand Nights for a very different desert heroine, as well as with The Blue Sword, Graceling, or The Assassin’s Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke.