Rebel of the Sands trilogy, by Alwyn Hamilton
I recently finished the last of the Rebel of the Sands trilogy, Hero at the Fall, and I put the book to the side with a sigh of satisfaction, which is the exact right reaction one should have to a book. I want to specifically showcase this trilogy because I feel like Alwyn Hamilton did so many things right.
The books are structured exactly right, with enough surprises along the way that the reader can't predict what's going to happen next. The pacing kept me turning the pages as quickly as I could, but I felt like all the important scenes were given their due and I didn't feel cheated. There was even the perfect amount of death and loss on the side of the good guys that the reader is left wondering who was going to be next next.
Really, Rebel of the Sands is a masterclass in how to write a YA trilogy. Firstly, Amani Al'Hiza is a total badass, a gun-toting firebrand ready to take on the world. She seeks adventure and change, and is prepared to do whatever it takes to make that happen, including dressing up as the Blue-Eyed Bandit and entering into sharpshooting contests, in a society where women are generally kept inside the house. Yay for proactive characters and strong female leads!
"She was all fire and gunpowder, and her finger was always on a trigger."
The setting, the entire world of Miraji, is cool. It made me think mainly of the Arabian desert, but the small towns made me think of the Old West in America and I liked the contrast. Best of all is the djinn-based mythology, the magic and the legends come to life with mischievous tricksters.
I loved the band of rebels who found each other in the desert. This is actually a great example of a found family, outsiders and misfits coming together for a greater cause, and becoming better for it. They have tasks to accomplish, and they struggle and fight for what's right, and lose some friends along the way. Every death feels real, and necessary, and heartbreaking, but I don't feel like I'm being emotionally manipulated for the sake of making things more intense.
And the romance between Amani and Jin is perfectly done for a YA trilogy. The tension is there, the flirtation is real, it culminates exactly as it should be done. I loved their story SO. MUCH. I liked their end, I found the sacrifice they make for one another, and for their cause, to be as it should be. The climax was built up enough, with enough foreshadowing that we are not left entirely without hope, but I know that Hamilton kills off her characters enough that I couldn't be sure about anything. I love being put in that position.
Just all around, from start to finish, Rebel of the Sands works as a high-quality young adult fantasy trilogy. It is solid and also exciting, and the characters are easy to fall in love with.
Can we also talk about this cover. It is GORGEOUS. Even better in colour. Every time I take a shot like this, with a cover like this, I am reminded how much I need a colour ereader. But I would read this book just for a cover like this - it feels new and fresh and not like everything else. Love it.