Rebel of the Sands #1. Author: Alwyn Hamilton.
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. (Goodreads summary)
A fun, fast-paced fantasy read that felt just a little hollow. I think it wanted to be layered and deep, wanted to have that perfect turn of phrase and the life-like characters that bring readers back again and again, and it didn’t quite make it. The dialogue was fun, and tried a bit too hard in parts, and nothing more. Our main character, Amani, is spunky and tough and overcame some character flaws, but she never did cross the line into the multi-layered character who feels completely real. I think that left an empty place where the book could have gone from okay/fairly good to great, and wanted to, and just couldn’t do it.
But it was fun. We’ve got a Eastern fantasy setting, with a bit of Western Cowboy mixed in, and the only way to make that better would have been if there’d been a rodeo with one of the sandstorm horses (there wasn’t, but sandstorm horses were great on their own). Alamani can throw a punch as well as the next man when Jin gets annoying – although she was the one to initiate the quick-kiss-passionately-so-the-passing-searchers-won’t-recognize-us which is far too cliché, especially for getting a kiss with the love interest. Her boundless optimism and confidence that she could pull it off, pull anything off, if she really truly tried, is invigorating. I don’t like characters who leave people behind – but at least she was overcoming that flaw.
Sexual Content: Main Character finds out her uncle plans to marry her – this may be permissible in the culture; multiple wives are also part of the culture. Character with odd eyes is finally old enough to understand why her father used to accuse her mother of infidelity. Character threatens to rape a girl. Some kissing. Woman can’t pay the water tax at the well; the guard, after studying her lustfully, motions her to come aside into a room (events interrupt this). Character says that when the army passed through his town, the girls who didn’t hide fast enough were raped – and afterward stoned by the villagers for “lying with foreigners”.
Language: 18 hell, 15 d***, 7 derogatory terms
Violence: Character breaks man’s wrist. Brawling in a crowd – someone knocks a lantern over and sets the place on fire. Character remembers the day her mother shot her father three times, and later that day was hanged. Soldier slaps girl, shoots a crippled boy in the knee, then hits the same girl in the head with his pistol. One character punches another. There is ring fighting in the background of one scene, but not much description of it. Shapeshifting girl is shot to the head; dead. “My mother too lay with demons […] my father had her bound and thrown into the sea […] the baby he gave to me to deal with […] it was still screaming when I shoveled dirt over it.” Character looses sandstorm horses, causing chaos and stampeding. Shoots and kills multiple monsters. Character bitten by a venomous monster. A character kicks a prisoner in the ribs. A demdji kills a boy – turns him into ash with a touch. Multiple men burned.
Other: Some drunkenness shown.