Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Rebel of the Sands, by Alwyn Hamilton

When I read the blurb for Rebel of the Sands, I confess I was a bit dubious: Hamilton takes the Wild West—a popular setting these days—and plops it down in the Middle-East, to come up with a fantasy land somewhere between Arabia and the American frontier. But she really makes it work. 

Miraji is mostly Arabian: a country ruled by a Sultan where Djinn still walk the earth (occasionally falling in love with mortal women, of course) and camel caravans cross shifting sands. But there are trains and mining towns that sound awfully Western, and some of the human-eating ghouls in the shadows are Skinwalkers. I think what I love about the setting is that Hamilton draws from all kinds of sources to come up with something that has familiar resonances but feels entirely original. 

The heroine, Amani, is a gun-toting hellion who leaves everything behind to gallop off on a magic horse with a rakish foreigner. She's impulsive, ruthless, not a little bit selfish—but I was rooting for her. She doesn't know it, but she's on a journey to find something larger than herself to believe in, and I was with her every step of the way.

It helped that I was entirely in love with Jin. I think Amani and Jin are going to be on top ten lists of great couples: the sparks certainly fly between them! Jin is mysterious, conflicted, has a hidden agenda, can't seem to keep away from Amani–plus he's got awesome cheekbones and a great smile, so, yeah. I'd follow him across a desert.

Not much happens with the magic at first—though there's plenty of action—, but once we meet the magical beings they're very cool. I loved the different powers and limitations everyone had; it was all very evocative and colorful. There's a Rebel Prince, a nasty army commander (who is actually the Rebel Prince's brother), plots and counter plots. Things really start getting interesting at the end, and I'm quite excited to see where the sequel goes.

Reminded me a bit of The Blue Sword and Graceling. Spicy lamb tagine served over couscous.

I was impressed with the writing in this debut novel. Alwyn Hamilton might live in London, but she was born in Toronto, so I'm claiming her as Canadian! I'm now over my goal of 13 Canadian books reviewed between July 1 and June 30: this makes number 14.

For more Canadian choices, you can always check out John Mutford's blog.

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