SERIES REVIEW: Rebel of the Sands Trilogy by Alwyn Hamilton

In this Series Review, I have amalgamated my previous reviews for Rebel of the Sands, Traitor to the Throne, and Hero at the Fall by Alwyn Hamilton, so that my readers can find all the information regarding this series quickly and easily in one place.

I have also included a brief review of the series as an entity at the end (following the three individual book reviews), and I must remind readers of this – while the individual book reviews are (generally speaking) free of any major spoilers, the later books will include potential spoilers from the earlier ones.

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Rebel of the Sands

I’d heard raving reviews about Rebel of the Sands, and with such a gorgeous cover and an even more intriguing summary, I was already convinced this book would be everything I wanted it to be. And I was not let down – Rebel of the Sands is a fantastic novel. The action-packed pages and fiery romance drag the reader in, and from page one onward, I could hardly put this book down.

Mortals rule the desert nation of Miraji, but mythical beasts still roam the wild and remote areas, and rumor has it that somewhere, djinn still perform their magic.  For humans, it’s an unforgiving place, especially if you’re poor, orphaned, or female. Amani Al’Hiza is all three.  She’s a gifted gunslinger with perfect aim, but she can’t shoot her way out of Dustwalk, the back-country town where she’s destined to wind up wed or dead. Then she meets Jin, a rakish foreigner, in a shooting contest, and sees him as the perfect escape route. But though she’s spent years dreaming of leaving Dustwalk, she never imagined she’d gallop away on mythical horse—or that it would take a foreign fugitive to show her the heart of the desert she thought she knew.

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As a debut novel for Alwyn Hamilton, I was blown away by the beauty and prowess of her writing style. Despite the fact that Amani’s story never had a dull moment, the entire thing flowed so smoothly. Beyond that, Hamilton really dragged readers in not only with her fantastic story-telling, but also through her complex, interesting characters. Amani and Jin, as individuals and through their relationship, peaked my interest right away. I mean, come on, a gun-slinging, independent girl and a mysterious, attractive foreigner who is equally stubborn and roguish? Count me in.

Amani’s character was particularly interesting. While she didn’t develop very much from her original presentation until near the end of the book, it didn’t really matter because I loved who she was. Rarely do you see female characters drug their obvious love interest and leave him behind because he’s slowing her down. Amani was everything I’ve been wanting from a tough female protagonist – tough as nails and unwavering in her goals. Amani didn’t let Jin influence her goals- her goals instead changed because she realized they needed to change in order for her to grow as a person. While Jin may have played a role in that, her love interest in him was hardly the deciding factor. I love it. Jin is interesting as well – he was also a complex character, and I am looking forward to learning more about him in the sequel.

Also, Amani and Jin’s burning romance – I need more of it! I love, love, love that they didn’t go from being complete strangers to immediately being lovers (this isn’t a Disney movie!). Their relationship felt tangible and real, and I am absolutely dying for more of it in Traitor to the Throne.

My only complaints about Rebel of the Sands  are that it was far too short, and that I have to wait so long for the sequel. So if you’re looking for a good read, I certainly hope you’ve got this in your book pile, and if not, it’s time to pick it up! This book is everything a reader could want from a good fantasy read – magic, mystery, action and romance – in addition to being beautifully written. All in all, this is a spectacular debut novel for Alwyn Hamilton, and I can’t wait to read more of her work (4/5)!

Traitor to the Throne

Traitor to the Throne by Alwyn Hamilton, released in North America on March 14th, 2017, is the highly anticipated sequel to Rebel of the SandsTraitor 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 so 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).

Hero at the Fall

Following the success of Rebel of the Sands and Traitor to the Throne by Alwyn Hamilton, the third and final book in the trilogy, Hero at the Fall, was released in North America on March 6, 2018, and promises to be a breathless finale to the New York Times bestselling Rebel of the Sands series. It will have readers on the edge of their seats until the dust from the final battle clears!

When gunslinging Amani Al’Hiza escaped her dead-end town, she never imagined she’d join a revolution, let alone lead one. But after the bloodthirsty Sultan of Miraji imprisoned the Rebel Prince Ahmed in the mythical city of Eremot, she doesn’t have a choice. Armed with only her revolver, her wits, and her untameable Demdji powers, Amani must rally her skeleton crew of rebels for a rescue mission through the unforgiving desert to a place that, according to maps, doesn’t exist. As she watches those she loves most lay their lives on the line against ghouls and enemy soldiers, Amani questions whether she can be the leader they need or if she is leading them all to their deaths.

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After reading Hero at the Fall by Alwyn Hamilton, I can guarantee that readers will be drawn into the story and won’t want to put this book down until the very last page. With a steadily paced plot that is interspersed with action-packed scenes, rich storytelling, powerful characters, and a slow-burning romance that will sweep readers off their feet.

While I did find Hero at the Fall to be slower read than Rebel of the Sands or Traitor to the Throne, I did still enjoy Hamilton’s storytelling, despite the slower pace of the plot. This may partially be due to the fact that the action scenes were so poignant, powerful, and well-written, that the slow bits in between didn’t feel quite so slow. In addition those “slow bits” were important – they weren’t just filler or otherwise useless nonsense – they were meaningful, and powerful, and equally important as the action bits. This displays Hamilton’s prowess when it comes to storytelling – that she can weave together so many bits of a story into something utterly beautiful. Something that readers won’t want to put down, whether they’re reading the “dull” bits or the action sequences!

One of the things I have always loved about this series is how powerful the characters are, and yet how human they remain, despite their convictions, influence and drive. Amani (the Blue-Eyed Bandit), Jin (the Foreign Prince), Ahmed (The Rebel Prince), Shazad (the Beautiful General), and Sam (the Once Nameless Boy) are all individuals in their own right, and it is nearly impossible not to love each and every one of the character’s Hamilton has crafted – which perhaps make this read all the more heart-breaking. From Amani’s burning passion and will to do right, to Jin’s loyalty and determination, each character is somehow larger than life, yet utterly human, another nod to Hamilton’s exemplary storytelling skills.

“We were burning together as one single flame, bright enough that we could defy the night. Both of us shattering into sand and dust and sparks, until we were both just infinite stars tangled together in the night” – Alwyn Hamilton, Hero at the Fall

Now let’s not forget that slow-burning romance that has been simmering between Amani and Jin since the Blue-Eyed Bandit first laid eyes on the Foreign Prince in Dustwalk in Rebel of the Sands. This is perhaps the definition of a slow-burning romance, and it is certain to sweep readers off their feet and have their hearts pounding in Hero at the Fall, because Amani and Jin are finally done waiting for one another, and when they finally collide the journey to the moment with certainly seem worth it.

“The tales would be imperfect; the legends would be incomplete. But even if the desert forgot a thousand and one of our stories, it was enough that they would tell of us at all” Alwyn Hamilton, Hero at the Fall

Overall, as Hamilton so aptly said in the final lines of this novel, the tale was imperfect – it had more slow bits than I would have like, which may be a turn off to some readers who place a lot of importance on the pacing of a story – but overall, Hero at the Fall was an overwhelming success in my opinion. I did not want to put it down, and I can’t imagine that many other readers will want to either (4/5)!

Overall Thoughts

If it is not evident from my reviews, my overall thoughts regarding the Traitor to the Throne trilogy by Alwyn Hamilton were overwhelmingly positive. Hamilton is a master storyteller, and she masterfully weaves action, intrigue and romance together to create a sprawling fantasy adventure the likes of which I have rarely seen in the Young Adult genre (4/5).

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