I saw a lot of references to Rebel of the Sands on the internet, a lot of them raving about the book but others just admiring its beautiful cover. I have to admit, the cover is about 80% of the recent I picked it up in the end. I almost bought it, just because the foil-on-blue was so gorgeous, but settled for a library copy in the end because I’m poor in shelf space as well as money.
Side note: it looks absolutely gorgeous when paired with Beautiful Broken Things. Their colour schemes just work so well together.
Anyway, Rebel of the Sands sat on my shelf for a bit looking pretty before I got around to reading it, because everyone I knew in the book blogging world seemed to love it so I was a bit nervous. I read it on a day when my mental health was pretty rubbish and I’d cried at literally everything (including sitting on the floor sobbing because I wanted to hug a cat and don’t own a cat), so all I was looking for was some escapism and a story to get me out of my own head. Thankfully, it provided.
The book is probably best described as a Western in an Eastern setting. I don’t know if that’s what it’s marketed as, but the protagonist is a kickass sharpshooter who can hold her drink, trying to make a better life for herself and avoid being married off. It’s also a fantasy, as there are Djinni and Nightmares and other creatures of the type you might find lurking in a desert. And it’s a story about rebellion — a rebel Prince challenging political power.
Honestly, it’s a lot of things, which I liked. It meant that it combined elements I really enjoy reading about (revolution! girl power! interesting worldbuilding!) with things I don’t often come across (a non-European setting, for a start), giving it a fresh feel without veering away from my comfort zone.
There are two great things about this book that I need to emphasise. One is that the plot wasn’t predictable. I have a knack for guessing every plot twist ever on the basis of nothing at all (okay, not every plot twist, but way too many — I always ruin books for myself), and this book still managed to surprise me, without feeling like all plot points came out of the blue and weren’t set up.
The other great thing is that I got through it without crying, and that’s partly because it was escapism that got me out of my head, and partly because of the type of story it is. Bad things happen, good people get hurt and even die — it’s not a story where the stakes are low. But, ultimately, it is a story where the good guys win. For now. And that sense of victory, of overcoming the odds, was what I needed on a day when I was feeling so rubbish.
Without being a feel-good story where there’s no sense of danger because nobody actually gets hurt, it managed to be uplifting, and to make me feel better. I assume there’s going to be a sequel, from how it ended, and I look forward to seeing how that pans out.
So, any criticisms? Well, I have to say that I wasn’t a big fan of the romance — I rarely am. But it wasn’t annoying, nor did it take over the story, and there were plenty of other friendships and relationships to focus on. I’d like to see how those develop in the (hypothetical? definite?) sequel, because some of them hadn’t had the chance to fully reach their potential. But there was definitely a lot of scope for those to be interesting.
I would also have liked to see more of the worldbuilding and understand the nature of the magical/otherworldly creatures a bit more, but it would have been hard to do that in a book of this length without info-dumping all over the place, so I felt like the balance was good.
It’s a pretty quick read (I got through it in about 90 mins because I’m a weirdo, it’s not that short) which was refreshing after the long, intense fantasies I’ve read recently. And yeah, generally it was what I needed at the time that I read it: something exciting enough to take my mind off my own issues, and uplifting enough to make them not feel so bad.