Friday, 27 May 2016

'Rebel of the Sands', by Alwyn Hamilton

Title: Rebel of the Sands (Rebel of the Sands #1)
Author(s): Alwyn Hamilton
Release Date: 4th February 2016
Publisher: Faber & Faber
Genre: YA, Fantasy
Source: NetGalley

"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 an unforgiving, dead-end town. It's not the place to be poor or orphaned or female. And yet Amani Al'Hiza must call it 'home'.

Amani wants to escape and see the world she's heard about in campfire stories.

Then a foreigner with no name turns up, and with him she has the chance to run.

But the desert plains are full of dangerous magic. The Sultan's army is on the rise and Amani is soon caught at the heart of a fearless rebellion...

An epic story of swirling desert sands, love, magic and revolution.


I really, really wanted to love this book.

I had read a sample, really enjoyed the set up for the story, the main character and the original concept, and was very much looking forward to seeing where that beginning led.

Nowhere that interesting, it turned out.

'Rebel of the Sands' tells the story of Amani, a girl from the small desert town of Dustwalk. All she ever wanted to do her whole life was to flee to the capital, a place she has been hearing about since childhood and believes is the best for her to lead the life she wants. In her world, men own everything, even women. Having no husband, she lives under the watchful eye of her uncle, who means to take her as a bride. Wanting to be able to live for herself and make her own path, Amani finds in a shooting competition the opportunity to finally get the money she needs to run away and never look back. Dressed as a boy to avoid suspicion, she enters, and is on the path to win.

If not for a foreigner with incredibly good aim.

There is nothing I enjoy reading more than an independent, strong female character, and Amani did manage to fill that role. She is not the sweet, complying girl that society wants her to be, and her rebellion against that institution comes through in a variety of ways. Her inability to keep her mouth shut, even in sensitive situations, could have become annoying, but it was one of my favorite aspects about her; it showed her unique characterization and provided plenty of the comic relief throughout the book.

Another aspect about Amani that will probably divide readers as they go through her story is how clueless she is. In plenty of situations I found myself almost attempting to shout at the pages to tell her not to do a certain thing or how dangerous something would become, but in the end I believe that goes along with who she is in her core. She is a girl that has grown up in a small town, knowing every single person in her surroundings, and having seen nothing of the world beyond the limits of her home. Her lack of knowledge is more than justified, and as she leaves Dustwalk her travels are not just in the search of a new, better home but also of self-discovery.

This is where the problems started. While up to this point I could understand and relate with Amani in her feeling of inadequacy and non-belonging, I struggled to really care about her. Or any of the other characters, for that matter. I felt completely detached of any emotional connection with the characters of this book throughout, which made for a bland read. The same applied to the romantic plot; there was no chemistry between both parts, and whenever there was an intimate moment between both of them it just felt odd. It was like seeing two people that were barely even friends trying to make something work out of nothing just because they had to. Emotionally, in every aspect, I was just not involved at all.

For such a small book, it is incredibly slow paced. After reading the synopsis you will be expecting to see Amani involved in a rebellion of some sort (and, you know, going from the title), but that does not happen until the last third of the book or so, and when it does, you can't really see the why, or bother to pay much attention. There's not much point to a lot of what happens throughout the story, and it's like the entire plot happens by accident. Things that they were not expecting come in their way, causing them to switch course several times, but in the end they still end up where one of them wanted to go, and it felt contrived. It reads more as a contemporary road trip novel where they made no plans in the beginning than a fantasy novel, and that takes me to my next point.

The world-building. The story mixes elements from Westerns with Middle Eastern culture, and that had been one of the things that made me really want to read this book, for its uniqueness. While I still very much enjoyed reading a book set in the desert with this often untouched mythology, the western aspect felt out of place. The only reason it seems to be there is to place a gun in Amani's hands and make her look like a badass cowboy. Seeing a war waged with guns in a world filled with magic was something that while not completely ridiculous was not embedded seamlessly into the story.

Most of the mythology explanation came through characters telling each other stories, and while it was interesting at first, with its repetitive occurrence it became boring and a way to dump information. Explaining a world to a reader is never easy, but coupling the lack of an emotional connection with this choice of technique, I felt compelled to skip the sections I should have been the most eager to read about. There are a lot of elements that are incessantly repeated throughout the book (I get it, Amani, your mother is dead. There is absolutely no need for it to be mentioned every two pages) and with the lack of descriptions in some essential elements (for example, clothing is only named and not shown. I found myself having to google the mentions of clothing just to know what it looked like) this was a world that I had a hard time seeing myself sucked into.

There are also often plot inconsistencies, lack of punctuation and spelling mistakes throughout the novel, which is troubling to see in any finished copy of a book.

Overall, as much as I wanted to enjoy this story, the way in which it was presented gave me no possible way to connect with the overall plot or any of the characters, and it simply could not grab me, even with its originality in setting and strong, female characters. When I start skimming through the end of a book, it's a very bad sign.

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