In REBEL OF THE SANDS, Amani wants to escape her abusive family by leaving town and ends up having to team up with a fugitive.
What intrigued me: Mostly recommendations from friends.
Very Unique and Hard to Get Into
REBEL OF THE SANDS has a beautifully unique setting that's somewhere between a Middle Eastern and a classic Western town. Surprisingly, the mashup isn't as strange as you'd expect. There's shooting, djinns, other malevolent creatures and magic. It's certainly something that I have never seen before in YA and therefore definitely gets the full score if we're talking originality. Though I do think that REBEL OF THE SANDS plays into stereotypes too much and does very little to help you familiarize yourself with the world.
I love that Hamilton drew inspiration from Middle Eastern culture, but I really would've wished for her to make it easier for the average reader to truly understand the culture. Similar to the criticism I had for THE WRATH AND THE DAWN, which also features a Persian-inspired world, I would've been over the moon happy if there was a glossary included. So many words of Arab origin that you'd never understand or recognize unless you're googling what it means, little nods to clothing and culture and food, that you'd have no way of understanding.
I think especially when you're not including a Western setting, considering that this is a book first published in the US in English, you have to consider that that will frustrate readers. It did frustrate me and take away from the narration because I was constantly looking up words and absolutely couldn't get truly immersed into the world.
Gimmicky and Lacking in Execution
Ultimately it's a mixture of the lackluster storytelling that just didn't get to the point, and the confusing world building that really didn't make REBEL OF THE SANDS match my taste. Hamilton merrily uses lots of info-dumps at the most inconvenient times that made me want to skim, skip, or even quit altogether. I never quite grew invested in the story, all about it felt gimmicky to me and kind of unbelievable.
REBEL OF THE SANDS tries to be a western with paranormal elements, but also a classic high fantasy novel and the genre-mashup just doesn't work. I found it lengthy and boring and the writing too bulky and awkward to pull all of it off. At the core there is just no story to tell. REBEL OF THE SANDS purely relies on the world building (which is pretty much summed up by "there are monsters in the desert"), and that just doesn't work. While the setting is interesting, I think this lacks severely in execution and storytelling and I wish there was more to it all aside from the unique setting.
Overall: Do I Recommend?
REBEL OF THE SANDS tries to bring a new perspective and breath of fresh air into the genre, but doesn't quite deliver. If you generally enjoy Westerns, you still might enjoy this. But don't expect this to be the first Western to get you into the genre.