“Shazad was easily the most beautiful girl I’d ever met in my life, and when she smiled with all her teeth she looked like the most dangerous one, too”.
I started off with a quote about my favourite Rebel of the Sands character, Shazad, who was easily the best part of the book for me. Brave, smart, skilled in battle, beautiful and loyal, she was a character I found myself instantly drawn to.
I wish Shazad could make up for every issue I had with this book. Unfortunately, this was not the case. So bear with me while I go through all the reasons that made me either like or dislike this book.
So, this is probably going to be my most critical review so far, in a sense that I am not willing to overlook neither its negative nor its positive aspects in order to come up with a very positive or very negative review. Rebel of the Sands is made equally of good and bad elements and this is what this review is all about.
Our story follows Amani, a young girl who’s lived in the desert her entire life, desperate to leave in order to escape an arranged marriage forced upon her and follow the plan she and her mother had come up with: go to Izman and leave this place behind. She ends up leaving with a mysterious foreigner called Jin and the two travel across the desert together while all sorts of wild and unimaginable things happen. During the course of the book and Amani and Jin’s journey the mythology and the setting of the book are explored and explained, allowing the readers to get to know mythical creatures like the djinnis.
So far, so good; the story sounds exciting, the mythology is a very interesting one, and the chemistry between the characters is very real and very palpable. The – easy to spot – romance is a very well-written one; both characters are likeable, their relationship develops naturally and beautifully, without taking too much away from the action-packed story. Hamilton’s writing is very compelling, easily drawing you to her characters and their adventures, pulling you into a world of magic and mythical creatures.
And here come the issues within the story; while the story’s mythology is very well explored and developed, the world setting isn’t. The world of Rebel of the Sands is a world based on the Middle East. Or, more accurately, on how a white Westerner imagines the Middle East looks like. “There were only two things we had too much of: sand and guns”. And yes, this is an actual sentence of the book.
Hamilton’s “depiction” of the Middle East is not only inaccurate; it is a harmful, insulting misconception, a reduction of its culture and religion and its people to a violent stereotype. There are many things wrong with how countries in the Middle East view human rights; but reducing the entire region to just that is a very insulting narrative. Also, the religion depicted in the book is one that I imagine is based on Islam; with a variety of misconceptions following that depiction as well. I don’t know if that was the author’s choice – to deviate from the islamic religion in that way – or if it was an honest mistake, but whatever the case, it doesn’t make it any less troublesome.
Overall, I did enjoy the Rebel of the Sands, but its misrepresentation of the Middle East put me off and made me uncomfortable and mad many times. However, it was Hamilton’s debut novel, so I am willing to give its sequel a chance to see if she has developed as a writer and if she has disposed of negative ideas and stereotypes.
**A digital ARC was provided via Netgalley in exchange of an honest review **