A week ago, no sooner I finish my glowing praise of The Name of the Wind“>, than UPS drops off a package at my door. I hadn’t remembered ordering anything and none of my family or friends ‘fessed up to sending me anything. In the padded envelope was nothing but a book. No letter or invoice or anything explaining whyfor this book arrives or whence it came! Exercising my big smarty brain, I read the label for a clue and got only that it came direct from Penguin Publishing.
Maybe I signed up for some free give away? I have no idea, but obviously the Universe wanted me to read this book and perilous is it to ignore directives from the Universe when they are so blatant.
So the book – Alwyn Hamilton’s Rebel of the Sands.
I can sum up this book in two words –
No seriously! Stick with me on this! It’s a fantasy novel, so it takes place in a fictional desert kingdom with a Sultan and far eastern magical myths like djinn. It’s very careful not to imply fictional Islam, so there are no Imans or Mosques, going for Holy Men and Prayer Houses instead. Some standard social issues are present, such as polygamy and women having little to no power in their own lives.
Which brings us to the wild west aspect of it all. Our tale starts out in a desperate small mining town, rife with all the problems that a small desperate mining town has – scarcity of water, scarcity of options, the men give their lives to the mine and women suffer the brunt of their hopelessness in a one horse town where not even the monthly train runs through.
Our heroine is desperate to escape the gritty emptiness of life here and the awfulness of her impending future. Dressed as a boy (naturally) and gifted with uncanny aim with a gun (heresy!), she exchanges an empty unhappy life for endless danger as she naturally falls in with the rebellion. Because of course there’s a rebellion, all tied up with the mines, an allied/occupying foreign kingdom (that seems awfully western with their blond hair and blue eyes), and the struggle to retain the magic/identity of the kingdom/people without losing their soul. There’s even a train heist! Because Arab Gunslinger, duh!
I’m sure there’s a little subtext in there on the magic vs technology side of things, but the magic part really didn’t show up until later in the story and I presume it will be further explored in the following books.
Overall? I expected it to be very tropey what with the YA label and a girl hero, but it wasn’t. It was very engaging, handing me a few surprises along the way, making it an even more enjoyable story than initial assumption. If ever you were looking for a book that would actually break the molds and play a strong part in that whole “Representation Matters” I couldn’t suggest this book fast enough. Faux Arab Heroine. What more could you want? This should be read in school, except for the fact they never seem to offer fantasy as a literary choice.
I give this book a Make Your Kids Read It, because when I’m so delighted by an pro-active non-timid girl hero in a setting far underutilized in the writing world, then obviously my kids need the exposure as well. Especially in this current world where women and our Middle Eastern brethren are never considered heroic.
Back later, I have to hand the book off to Alpha. He was asking for it last night.