Traitor to the Throne by Alwyn Hamilton, released in North America on March 14th, 2017, is the highly anticipated sequel to Rebel of the Sands. Traitor to the Throne is a sizzling, un-put-downable sequel that immediately grabs the reader’s attention, and refuses to let go. Hamilton once again demonstrates her prowess for story-telling, creating a beautifully written tale, lined with action, betrayal and romance.
Mere months ago, gunslinger Amani al’Hiza fled her dead-end hometown on the back of a mythical horse with the mysterious foreigner Jin, seeking only her own freedom. Now she’s fighting to liberate the entire desert nation of Miraji from a bloodthirsty sultan who slew his own father to capture the throne. When Amani finds herself thrust into the epicenter of the regime—the Sultan’s palace—she’s determined to bring the tyrant down. Desperate to uncover the Sultan’s secrets by spying on his court, she tries to forget that Jin disappeared just as she was getting closest to him, and that she’s a prisoner of the enemy. But the longer she remains, the more she questions whether the Sultan is really the villain she’s been told he is, and who’s the real traitor to her sun-bleached, magic-filled homeland. Forget everything you thought you knew about Miraji, about the rebellion, about djinni and Jin and the Blue-Eyed Bandit. In Traitor to the Throne, the only certainty is that everything will change.
Traitor to the Throne is one of those rare instances where the sequel is even better than its predecessor. I loved Rebel of the Sands, but Traitor to the Throne simply outdid it on all levels – the plot/story was more rigorous, the characters more developed, and their relationships all the more heart-breaking because of it.
“A new dawn. A new desert.” – Alwyn Hamilton, Traitor to the Throne
Amani has, as mentioned above, come into her role as a demji, and as the Blue-Eyed Bandit. Having (mostly) recovered from a gun-shot wound which nearly killed her, she is back to creating trouble on Ahmed (the Rebel Prince’s) behalf, even if he doesn’t always agree with her dangerous, often radical, plans. But she’s rebelling against even him, bitter about Jin’s continued absence. As the story progresses, Amani finds herself thrust into the snake’s pit, a result of her kidnapping. The wives of the Sultim, the Sultan’s heir and firstborn son, are jealous of Amani’s arrival in the harem, though she has been marked off-limits. And the Sultan himself is different than Amani had imagined from all the stories she’d heard growing up. A cunning and very intelligent man, she can never forget the powerful Sultan once killed his own father and brothers to seize the throne. But surprisingly, he reminds her of Ahmed, and forces her to question Ahmed’s methods, and his right to rule. As a spy in the heart of the Sultan’s court, Amani finds herself in a new role – one which she does not completely understand. In Traitor to the Throne, the focus shifts to court politics and intrigue within the palace, tenuous territory for Amani, who is a soldier at heart, not a spy.
“It was a poor leader who needed to rely on fear to make his people obey. I might not be so well versed in philosophy, but it seemed to me like without obedience, a man was no ruler at all.” – Amani (Alwyn Hamilton, Traitor to the Throne, p.262).
For fans of Rebel of the Sands, it’s difficult to imagine Amani and Jin without one another, after their experiences in Rebel of the Sands. The two are almost to halves of a whole – both as two halves of a romance, and as partners in the rebellion. Yet by removing Jin from the main story line early on in the plot of Traitor to the Throne (which, I’ll be honest, was excruciatingly frustrating, but also heart-wrenching), Hamilton proves that Amani can, in fact, survive without a man. Amani is a strong individual, and not because of her partnership with Jin – she is the Blue-Eyed Bandit, and she is a force to be reckoned with, even powerless. Not only does Hamilton separate Amani from Jin, she thrusts her into a very female dominated environment – the harem. Hamilton forces Amani to go from an environment wherein men and women have very equal roles (in the rebellion), to the extremely patriarchal environment of the harem of the Sultan. By throwing this strong, independent female character into this group of women placed in a feminine space exclusively for the male gaze (and pleasure – Hamilton makes this very clear, despite providing Amani immunity from such assaults), Hamilton’s delved into the problematic nature of patriarchal society and how much more work we have left to do in the feminist fight to demolish it. The women in Traitor to the Throne (Amani, Shazad, etc.) have no choice but to fight for their survival, whether it’s in the middle of the desert, fighting for justice, or fighting for the attention of the men that hold power over them. The women in Hamilton’s series are all united under the same struggle, regardless of their class – a struggle which is reflected in the struggle of today’s women in our own society.
While recognizing the struggle of women in the fictional society she has created, Hamilton also used Traitor of the Throne to continue building upon the growing group of diverse, representative books in the Young Adult genre. Most all of Hamilton’s characters in Traitor of the Throne of persons of colour, and this is recognized in their beliefs, behaviours and even their names. Hamilton made a genuine effort to avoid white washing her characters, who exist in a society that is decidedly not white (Sam is the exception here – coming from a northern country, which seeks to invade Miraji). Hamilton also put significant effort into doing justice to Djinn lore. In Arabian lore, djinn (also spelled jinn) are a race of supernaturally empowered beings who have the ability to intervene in the affairs of people. The Djinn are self-propagating and can be either good or evil, though their motivations are normally more morally ambiguous. They can be conjured in magical rites to perform various tasks and services. A djinni (singular) appears as a wish-granting “genie” in folk tales, such as in The Book of 1001 Nights collection of folk tales. For example, according to pre-Islamic lore, the djinn are born of smokeless fire – Amani’s father initially appears as a being on fire, before being trapped and assuming a mortal form. Hamilton put a lot of effort into making these representations, both of the Miraji people, and also of the Djinn, both accurate and respectful, which allowed her to add a fantastically diverse book to the genre.
Now, onto the relationships in Traitor to the Throne; Amani and Jin’s relationship is central, but the other relationships (developing or established) also played a large role in Traitor to the Throne. These relationships include Ahmed and Jin’s brotherly relationship, Shazad’s blossoming relationship with Sam (aka the other Blue-Eyed Bandit), and Rahim’s brotherly relationship with his sister, among other relationships. I’m going to focus on Amani and Jin’s relationship here, because I will never be over everything that happened to them in this book. When Jin (finally) returns from the battlefront, Amani is (understandably) angry with him for leaving, and for taking so long to come back. Then, just as it seems as if they might reconcile, Amani is kidnapped and the two are separated indefinitely. Despite this separation, Hamilton didn’t stoop to low as to introduce a love-triangle (thank goodness), but instead chose to rip her readers’ hearts out with tiny tid bits of Jin’s actions following Amani’s disappearance – namely that he punched Ahmed in the face before racing off to search the desert for her. Upon their reunion, they cannot properly reunite, but the chemistry Hamilton creates is undeniable, and their seamless partnership in battle reminds the reader of just why the two of them are an inseparable pair.
“The trouble with belief is that it’s not the same as truth” – The Sultan (Alwyn Hamilton, Traitor to the Throne, p.263)
Finally, a bit of discussion about the story/plot of Traitor to the Throne. As I have mentioned, Hamilton deftly weaved an intricate plot in this one, which was just a stunning and shocking as Rebel of the Sands. While the reader may have their suspicions about certain things/events (the Sultan’s knowledge, Ahmed, etc.), nothing is ever certain, and Hamilton makes certain that she drops the story on its head at least a couple times before its through. In particular, the plot twists (yes, twists) that riddle the last 100 pages were spectacular – featuring an unexpected betrayal, a shocking and heart-breaking death, and then an equally shocking reveal. Nothing is simply, nothing is straightforward, yet the plot is so tight and controlled, everything feels natural, and the reader certainly never feels lost as the careen through this whirlwind of a story.
Overall, Traitor to the Throne by Alwyn Hamilton is an exemplary sequel that rivals its predecessor, Rebel of the Sands. Hamilton presents a thrilling and engaging story, that delves deeper into contemporary issues of feminism and diversity than most YA Fantasy novels dare, making this novel a superb addition to the genre for more than one reason (5/5).