Rebel of the Sands is the first book, published today, in a forthcoming trilogy of what is billed as a Young Adult (YA) series, but which could be enjoyed by anyone who loves a strong story set in a fictional, dystopian world, fully fashioned by first time author Alywn Hamilton. The world in question, centred around the unforgiving, dead-end town of Dustwalk and the deserts which surround it, is an at times unnerving steam-punkesque mash-up of nineteenth century wild west USA and an Arabic-type fundamentalist religious culture, in which plural marriages, the servitude of women, covered heads and faces and calls to prayer abound. As one character comments:
“I’m a girl who could’ve done just about anything if I’d been born a boy.”
In this setting, we first meet our sixteen year old heroine Amani, disguising herself as a boy and using her sharpshooter skills as the Blue Eyed Bandit to find a way to escape her life as an orphan in her uncle’s home.
Various adventures, encounters and shoot outs lead to her going on the run, before falling into an oasis (in every sense of the word) of allies, family members and a new understanding of herself and her background. The latter half of the book is full of spoilers (which are in turn, I would guess, setting up all manner of plot twists for the forthcoming sequels) so I’m being deliberately vague here … but the pace really picks up as the novel progresses and I found it to be a riveting and compelling read. And, as one review I read commented, I did indeed find myself: “cheering for Amani the whole way as she escapes the bonds of oppression and finds her own power.”
From both a feminist and a diversity perspective, I loved the fact that Amani is such a strong protagonist – and that all we initially know of her appearance is that she has blue eyes, which in this world indicates that she’s from “foreign” stock. There’s lots of coded stuff in the book about being different, Other, standing out or fitting in, being included and excluded. And, as with other YA series (like the Divergent and the Hunger Games books) Rebel of the Sands gives a clear message about the role of women and how different societies can limit or grant freedoms.
The book was sold at auction and is due to be made into a film – I can already imagine some of the special effects and shapeshifting that we’ll see on the screen and I’m so curious to learn who’s been cast as Amani; it will be a gift of a part for a young actress and this is a gem of a book.