Review: Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

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Oooh, this is a pretty book. Look at the oh-so-Instagrammable cover! The dust jacket alone was enough to make me want to read it. Luckily enough, the story was pretty good too. Bonus points for looking great on a bookshelf.

Rebel of the Sands is written like a western but set in alternative universe that feels like a magical version of the middle east. The desert setting, real life spirits and mercenary characters add to the Arabian Nights feel to make the premise of the novel totally unique. The story involves Amani, a young girl living in the backwater desert town of Dustwalk. Unaware of her father and with a mother who was killed by the authorities, Amani is a rebellious tomboy whose lightning fast reflexes make her handy with a gun. Her main aim in life is to leave her repressed existence behind by saving enough to get on the first train to the big city – and never look back. When she dresses up as a man to enter the town shooting competition she encounters a mysterious stranger and their unlikely friendship leads to a magical, terrifying and life changing adventure.

I really enjoyed the magical realism in this book. The desert is depicted as a mysterious place where spirits roam free and magic can be practiced by a lucky few. Sometimes I find that in certain books the ratio of magic to realism is too unbalanced and the storyline descends into the ridiculous but in Rebel of the Sands the magical elements were cohesive and weren’t used to simply get characters out of otherwise impossible situations (a pet hate of mine). These supernatural elements were seamlessly woven into the storyline and helped to create a truly evocative story. If you’re old enough to remember the Fry’s Turkish Delight advert then that’s exactly the kind of feel that is created (if you don’t know what I’m on about – Google it).

The storyline was very fast paced and had so many twists and turns that it was hard to guess what was going to happen next. The main character, Amani, had a number of difficult decisions to make, some of which were really heart wrenching. I loved her braveness and ability to beat the men at their own game and I really enjoyed her relationship with Jin, as there was just the right amount of will-they-won’t-they romance to add another interesting angle to the story. There was plenty of action, drama and suspense as Amani and Jim become embroiled in a political war and although it was sometimes hard to keep track of who was on which side their constant ability to evade the authorities kept me on the edge of my seat throughout.

The book ended with very little resolved so I’m guessing it’s part of a wider storyline. However, it still had a clearly defined start, middle and end so it could be satisfactorily read as a stand alone – although I definitely want to find out what happens next!

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys suspenseful fantasy, particularly if they find the idea of a fantasy western an intriguing idea.

Overall rating: 7/10

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley!

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Review: So You Want to be a Wizard by Diane Duane

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I read this book as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2016 – #8 Read a book published in the year that you were born (1983).

I read some of the reviews of this book before I bought it and immediately I kept coming across Harry Potter comparisons. However, if anyone is hoping that this is some kind of HP predecessor that J.K.Rowling somehow copied without anyone noticing then I’m afraid they’re going to be disappointed. This book is slow, not particularly coherent and not especially exciting. There is no character development – individuals are either good or bad and therefore quite one dimensional. Because the spells take a long time to cast the action is much slower paced and sometimes I struggled to follow the logic that the author had used for the characters to complete their quest. I can see how children would be able to enjoy the story more than adults (you need a very vivid imagination and an accepting nature to believe the concepts presented) but as an adult I really didn’t enjoy it.

If anyone else is looking for a book from 1983 then I would recommend The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett, which is excellent.

Overall rating: 5/10