I recently finished a really interesting and enjoyable YA book – Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton.
Amani Al-Hiza is a female, and an orphan, which makes her worthless property, only good for marriage. She certainly doesn’t view herself this way, however. She is determined to escape her desert town in the Last County. She decides to use her sharpshooting skills to win the money necessary, and runs into Jin, an intriguing young man who is obviously working toward a goal of his own. The two form an uneasy alliance to help them escape the soldiers trying to capture them. The alliance leads Amani to completely unexpected places, and helps her discover something new and terrifying about herself.
It’s generally hard for me to get involved in desert-based books because I’m very familiar with that environment, having grown up in the Sonoran Desert. I am skeptical going in, and it’s hard for me to get involved in the story if there are any inaccuracies, but Ms. Hamilton sucked me right in. She has constructed a really interesting world, with magic woven through the desert in unusual ways that don’t feel like they’re taken right out of Arabian Nights, even though there is definitely a nod to it.
Looking back, there isn’t nearly enough concern about water access in the story (few people realize just how much water you need to survive in the desert and how hard it is to carry adequate amounts), but the story was so good that I wasn’t paying attention to the lack of water (or the lack of concern about it). Instead, I was totally involved in the characters. (Ms. Hamilton does offer a partial explanation for this in the latter parts of the story, but the explanation only applies to one person.)
This was obviously the first in a new series, and I will eagerly await the next book. Put this in the hands of anyone who enjoys fantasy, or a strong female lead.