Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton (Rebel of the Sands#1)

Genre: Fantasy, YA

Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers on March 8, 2016

Source: Publisher

Rating StarRating StarRating Star

My thanks to the publisher for providing me with a physical review copy. No compensation was provided for this review, and all opinions are my own.

She’s more gunpowder than girl—and the fate of the desert lies in her hands.View Spoiler »

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If you’ve ever found yourself disappointed by the lack of diversity – and often the presence of explicit racism – in classic shoot ‘em up Westerns, then you’ll rejoice at Alwyn Hamilton’s debut novel, REBEL OF THE SANDS.

Amani Al’Hiza has spent her whole life counting the seconds until she can get out of the dead-end desert town she grew up in, where all that waits for her is a life of drudgery and a future as one of her uncle’s wives. Clearly the girl needs to bust out of Dustwalk, and she boldly leaps when an opportunity arises in the form of a mysterious foreign boy named Jin. Amani learns that Jin is on the run, and that he’s clearly no friend to the Sultan of the foreign army occupying her country – needless to say the two get into some pretty fantastic scrapes as a result. For a girl who’s dying for adventure, Jin is the perfect companion.

Disguised as a boy, Amani accompanies Jin across the desert to the future she thought she always wanted. But when confronted with the realities of life under foreign rule and the waning popularity of her own Sultan, Amani must decide whether the future she imagined for herself is what she really wants…and whether that future can even exist under the current regime.

Alwyn Hamilton’s world building is really well done, combining the gun slinging and train hopping of traditional Westerns with the landscape and mythology of the Middle East. Amani’s upbringing in Dustwalk, the site of the country’s largest ammunitions factor, is credited with a good portion of her sharp-shooting abilities; this was a nice touch, as it explained why a young person would be a crack shot even if they’d never seen combat. When there’s an excess of bullets and a distinct lack of toys to play with, I guess kids are going to make use of what’s available: bullets. Kind of a scary thought!

The religious and political context of the story was well done too, with commentary on imperialism and the role of women in non-secular, devout societies throughout the book. One of my favourite aspects of REBEL OF THE SANDS was the friendship that developed between Amani and Shazad, another girl who’s unusual skills are considered distinctly unfeminine by her society, and whose life would’ve been completely different had she been born a boy. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, then you probably know that I love a great female friendship!

Unfortunately I did have some problems with this one, particularly during the last third of the story. The plot twists were visible a mile away and character development fell by the wayside in favour of reveals that didn’t surprise me. The world building that I loved so much in the first sections of the novel telegraphed the ending a bit too clearly for my liking! I also felt that because we spend so much time with Amani and Jin, the emotional impact of the secondary character’s story arcs wasn’t as strong as it could have been.

Overall though, still an enjoyable read and a great selection if you’re looking for a diverse novel for a Sunday spent in bed!

Have you read REBEL OF THE SANDS? What are your favourite SFF novels inspired by non-Western cultures? Let me know in the comments!


  1. On the topic of non-Western inspired SFF — I remember reading Neuromancer and being surprised at how much you had to know about Japan to really make sense of some of the subtleties in that book. I felt like it was presented in a bit of a confusing way in that book though.

    > ” […] if you’re looking for a diverse novel for a Sunday spent in bed! ”

    Spending Sundays in bed is the greatest thing ever.

    1. I’ve heard that Neuromancer is quite a difficult read, but it’s on so many “best of” lists that I feel like I need to give it a shot! Sundays in bed are my absolute favourite way to recharge for the work week. 🙂

  2. I loved the first half of this, but I remember thinking the second half was SO PREDICTABLE! I still liked it a lot, enough that I’ll definitely read the next one, but the story had better get itself together! 🙂

    1. It was actually insanely predictable, to the point where I almost felt like I didn’t need to finish reading the story because I already knew how it would end, haha. I’m definitely curious to see how the story arc progresses!

  3. This sounds fun! I love westerns and middle eastern settings. I don’t generally love special snowflake’s though….. Adding this to the TBR.
    I don’t read enough non-western inspired SFF! The only one I’ve read recently and I really liked it was Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor.

    1. I’ve never been a huge fan of Westerns (usually because they tend to be problematic), so it was nice for me to get a new glimpse at them through this book. Haha yeah, sadly Amani was a bit of a special snowflake, but this is YA so it’s not too surprising I suppose.

      Ahhh I need to check that one out! I really like Nnedi Okorafor’s writing.

  4. NoooOoooo! I only read really good reviews of this one (I have it sitting on my shelf), so seeing your 3-star rating is a shock! I won’t read the review now (sorry, I hate spoilers), but we’ll definitely talk when I get to it. I bought it mainly for the cover, it’s so pretty.

    1. Haha oh no! Well maybe you’ll enjoy this one more than I did. I was into this one for d the diversity, and I have to say that it did deliver on that front. I’m definitely looking forward to your thoughts on it!

  5. I am super curious to be honest

    1. It’s definitely a unique book! You should pick it up from the library if you get a chance.

    • Lisa (@TenaciousReader)

    • 6 years ago

    This was a fun read, but yeah, there are better options out there 🙂 It was definitely predictable, with some very convenient circumstances! But, I was in the mood for something like that when I read it, so was more forgiving.

    1. Yeah, I had pretty high expectations so I wasn’t super forgiving haha. But I do love seeing diverse YA fantasy! 🙂

    • Lynn Williams

    • 6 years ago

    I’ve seen a couple of shaky reviews for this one so whilst I started out almost desperate to pick it up I felt my interest lessened some. Still – maybe if I have a few idle days – who knows (it could happen).
    Lynn 😀

    1. You know, that was my experience exactly! I totally bought into the hype at first and then started to get wary after a few bloggers I really trust gave it lukewarm reviews. Haha, if only there were more idle days for extra reading!

  6. Hmm, been debating whether i should add this to my tbr, because of mixed reviews like this. Always disappointed when I figure out things before I’m supposed to, great review!!

    1. Thanks Tori! Usually I’m not very good at predicting storylines or plot twists, so you know it’s predictable when even I can anticipate what’s going to happen!

  7. I’ve had a copy of this one sitting on my shelves for quite a while. I really need to get around to it. That special snowflake icon though makes me worried. I’m kind of tired of that trope. I do like the sounds of the diversity in this one though.

    1. Yeah, sorry to say that the special snowflake status is earned. But! There is a lot of diversity and interesting social commentary, so give it a shot and see what you think!

  8. I felt exactly the same way about this book as you did! There were parts that I found terrific, like the world building and some of the character development at first, but things fizzled out for me in the second half, towards the end. I also agree that the secondary characters weren’t as well-developed as much as Jin and Amani. Did you get a chance to read the summary of the second book? I don’t know if I’m reading too much into it, but it seems to be hinting at Jin not being who he says he is and that worries me a little because I do like them as a couple quite a bit.
    Anyways, terrific review! I seriously love reading your reviews because you touch on so many elements.

    1. I’m so glad to hear that I’m not alone on this one! The difference in quality between the first and second sections of the book was really noticeable.

      *hustles over to goodreads to read the next synopsis* Oh no! Jin! The relationship between Amani and Jin was one of my favourite aspects as well, so hopefully it’s just a red herring in the synopsis.

      Thanks so much, Nick! 🙂

  9. This sounds so good, but I’m sorry the second half didn’t live up to your expectations. I’ve been wavering on whether to read it, and I guess I’m still wavering… but the worldbuilding might tip the balance in favor of reading it.

    1. I was so prepared to love this one, so I was definitely a bit disappointed by the ending. But really, the setting and world building were worth it in my opinion! If you’ve got some wiggle room in your TBR (when does that ever happen though??) and you’re in the mood for a YA, this is a good one to squeeze in there.

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