She’s more gunpowder than girl—and the fate of the desert lies in her hands.
Mortals rule the desert nation of Miraji, but mystical beasts still roam the wild and barren wastes, and rumor has it that somewhere, djinni still practice their magic. But there’s nothing mystical or magical about Dustwalk, the dead-end town that Amani can’t wait to escape from.
Destined to wind up “wed or dead,” Amani’s counting on her sharpshooting skills to get her out of Dustwalk. When she meets Jin, a mysterious and devastatingly handsome foreigner, in a shooting contest, she figures he’s the perfect escape route. But in all her years spent dreaming of leaving home, she never imagined she’d gallop away on a mythical horse, fleeing the murderous Sultan’s army, with a fugitive who’s wanted for treason. And she’d never have predicted she’d fall in love with him… or that he’d help her unlock the powerful truth of who she really is.
Description taken from Goodreads.
I could’ve DNFed Rebel of the Sands anywhere in the first 100 pages. The world was well-developed, the characters were vaguely intriguing, the pacing was reasonable–the elements were there, but I just wasn’t feeling the premise or where I thought the plot was going. If you think you’ll feel the same way about the whole Wild West theme, fear not. The book switches gears about halfway through, slowly unfolding into something much more exciting: X-Men meets the desert.
At first, it doesn’t seem like that. At the middle of the book, the only thing that changes is that things go from being about a cross-dressing girl (cliché) to being about a girl who stumbles into a rebellion and realizes she has magic powers (even more cliché). But it works. Why? Because Hamilton spins the whole thing remarkably well.
She introduces two opposing sides representing good and evil, both of which have half-djinni, half-human members. One side represents a rebellion that embraces these magical members and uses them to fight against the capitol (in other words, the X-Men). The other side represents those in power, who kill off the majority of those with magic and use a select few of them as weapons (every non-Magneto X-Men opponent ever). For those of you who have read the book–that scene with the curly-haired boy whose name I can’t remember and Noordam on the train? Straight-up right out of X-Men First Class right there.
The book was much more compelling after this revelation, and by the end of the story, I really liked where things were going.
But on that curly-haired boy whose name I can’t remember. Yeah, there were a lot of those characters who meant absolutely nothing. There were so many of them that it was hard to keep them all straight, and eventually I settled for being able to recognize the core cast of the story. Not exactly sure why Hamilton felt the need to introduce so many people later on, but I hope that we won’t be expected to know all of them in the second book.
Hamilton has a lot of potential as a writer. The execution structure is right, the action is there, the world is intricately designed, heck, she even managed to hold off on the vast majority of the romance for this book. We only get the beginnings of a relationship between Jin and Amani by the end of the book. Oh, and Hamilton managed to make Amani tough without making her completely obnoxious. Amani’s strong without having to do everything herself, and she didn’t fall into the pitfall that many other YA heroines do. Cheers to Hamilton for those things. She’s got a pretty decent debut novel here.
Those things aside, she’s also got a few ways she could improve, specifically as it relates to her characters’ development. Amani ends up leaving a few people behind on her journey to the rebel cause, and it has exactly zero toll on her conscious. I get that she’s trying to survive for a good portion of the story, getting thrown from place to place, but she thinks back maybe twice on the best friend she grew up with when the last time she saw him, he was getting shot for her. There was a lot of potential to develop her in those moments and give a broader look into her as a person, not just as a character, but it wasn’t taken advantage of.
Overall, I would recommend this one for fans of Erin Bowman’s Vengeance Road who are searching for something a bit more diverse. Looking forward to seeing how Hamilton grows in the books to come. 3 stars.