Title: Rebel Of The Sands
Author: Alwyn Hamilton
Publisher: Faber and Faber
Published: February 4th 2016
Dustwalk is an unforgiving, dead-end town. It’s not the place to be poor or orphaned or female. And yet Amani Al’Hiza must call it ‘home’.
Amani wants to escape and see the world she’s heard about in campfire stories.
Then a foreigner with no name turns up,and with him she has the chance to run.
But the desert plains are full of dangerous magic. The Sultan’s army is on the rise and Amani is soon caught at the heart of a fearless rebellion…
This review will contain spoilers!
Rebel Of The Sands was one of those books that everybody loved but I hated. A cross between the Wild West and Middle East, the world was complex, confusing and badly built. I just couldn’t grasp the sort of place Miraji was, apart from the fact that it was a desert since this was mentioned in at least every chapter. There were so many place names that I needed a map to navigate myself through the story, but of course the book didn’t have one.
Despite being a NYT bestseller, a Goodreads Choice winner, and having multiple raving reviews, this novel has been criticised too and perhaps reading about the problematic aspects beforehand made me more critical than usual.
The opening was horribly laden with stereotypes. For a white author to draw inspiration from other cultures by incorporating harmful stereotypes that misrepresent their people in the media was extremely offensive. There were certain moments where I literally had to stop reading because the only thing going through my head were the words WHAT. THE. FUCK.
The way marriage is portrayed is disgusting. First ‘what the fuck’ moment: our protagonist’s uncle wants to find her a husband who will “finally beat some sense into her.” I’m pretty sure this was not meant metaphorically. To make matters worse, he offers to marry her himself. Avunculate marriage is prohibited in Islam and illegal in most Muslim countries. Considering the novel borrows from cultures where the people are predominantly Muslim, this felt wrong on so many levels.
Further ‘what the fuck’ moments include this one: “Better earn your money and not shake, kid. Or everyone’ll see the bottle trembling like a girl on her wedding night.” And also this one: “You know, I don’t have to wed you first. I can make you worthless. Then you’d have no choice. You could marry me or hang.” I’m pretty sure these lines speak for themselves and reflect how misogynistic this book is.
There was also this: “Desert dwellers had dark skin, dark hair and dark eyes. It was the Gallan who had pale features.” I wasn’t entirely sure what pale features even meant but further on in the paragraph it refers to “pale eyes and light hair.” Of course, the “pale” Gallan consider themselves superior to the “dark” desert folk.
Amani is the exception. Like the Gallan, she has pale blue eyes and if I had a dollar for each time they were referred to as “traitor eyes” or someone uttered “lying is a sin” I probably could have bought another book to read. I was very close to DNF-ing this. The beginning was offensive and the middle was just boring. Period.
Despite the time jumps when presumably nothing exciting was happening, there was still nothing exciting happening. It was literally just Amani and Jin walking through the desert, and because we had missed so much of the time they had spent together it was difficult to understand the feelings they had developed for each other. I liked Jin, but I hated Amani. The narrative voice was irritating, which is a shame because the fact that she is a sharpshooter and dresses like a boy to get away with it is something that really appealed to me when I read the synopsis. There were just as many characters as there were places to the point where I couldn’t remember who was on which side. To sum it up in one word, it was just messy.
Now for the plot twist… it does get better. I was well over halfway through the book when things started to get interesting. The Djinn, which are frequently mentioned in the Qur’an and therefore well-known within Muslim cultures, are one of many creatures of the desert. There was nothing about this aspect that I found offensive. It was pretty fascinating, particularly when it came to the existence of the Demdji – the offspring of humans and Djinn. That was probably the only thing I enjoyed reading about.
The plot itself didn’t interest me but I blame this on the poor world-building and characters I didn’t particularly care for. The three ‘plot twists’ didn’t have the shock factor they should have had purely because I wasn’t invested in the story. I was more shocked at the fact that I was actually enjoying it at the end.
Overall, there was so much wrong with this book, and even though I’d love to know what happened to Noorsham (my favourite character, obviously) I most definitely won’t be reading the next one.