Goodreads: 4.18/5 (click here to view the synopsis)
As a rule I’m pretty picky about the ratings I give on Goodreads- one or two stars is for the vile and pathetic, three for the ones I enjoyed, four for the fantastic that I’d probably read again, and five, that sparse and golden five, for the ones that changed me in ways I can’t quite place. I have maybe a handful books with that last rating. This book is one of them.
- It’s a fairytale- or more precisely, it’s based on one. The prose is wonderfully lyrical and written in third person, and like all fairytales, it draws heavily on setting and background. The story is placed in a village in northern Russia, cold and frigid and bank opposite a deep, eldritch forest filled with magical deities. Fun question: if a fairytale doesn’t have a scary forest in it, is it still even a fairytale?
- It’s about magic, but it’s also not really about magic. It’s more a magical book about other things like strength, resilience, and to some extent, religion and belief. The magic bit of it is largely expressed through Russian deities (most are from popular folklore, I believe) that guard homes and river and stables and other such things, thereby protecting the denizens of the village.
- It’s a slow book, but I typically don’t like to tell people that, because often slow is interpreted as boring, and this book is anything but. The story progresses gradually, taking its own sweet time, meandering through each sub-plot and halting occasionally to munch on the berries of atmosphere and mood, but it is never, never, uninteresting. Also, there are talking horses!
The Bear and the Nightingale is available for sale here, if you live in the US, and here, if you live in India.
Goodreads: 3.95/5 (click here to read the synopsis)
I’ll confess right up that I’m a huge fantasy fan, and especially a fan of those with a Middle Eastern background (shout out to The Golem and the Jinni for introducing me to this genre). You’d think that would grant me an unyielding bias when it came to this novel, but, truthfully, I was immediately ready to be disappointed the moment I opened the first page. I suppose I’m one of those assholes who really does judge a book by the first three paragraphs, and the ones from this book weren’t all that special, so I was resolved to read as much as I could and then pass it off to a friend.
Except that never happened, because I love this book so much, I’ve decided I’m never letting it go.
- It’s not your generic YA girl-meets-boy, boy-is-instantly-attracted-to-girl-for-no-apparent-reason, multiple-horny-scenes-ensue book. Well, at least not in the typical sense. After reading the first paragraph I was ready to dismiss it as yet another trashy YA book with bad prose and worse character arcs. I was wonderfully wrong. Rebel of the Sands is pure, exhilarating story from beginning to end. There are romantic scenes, but it isn’t a romance novel at all. Instead, its a fast paced, action-packed book that’ll make you gasp more times than you can count. And what’s more, its unlike anything I’ve read before, which is a fairly rare trait these days.
- Rebel of the Sands is, without doubt, a feminist book. Amani Al’Hiza, the main character, is a self-taught sharp shooter who yearns to break free from the bonds of her oppressive uncle and forge her own destiny in a different city. The story takes place is a parallel Middle Eastern country where magic exists, but the oppression towards women remains intact, and Hamilton has drawn out this aspect beautifully.
- What really makes or breaks any fantasy novel for me is the depth and detail that goes into the mythology. Most YA fantasy I read barely dip into the background of the world before moving on to other aspects of the story, leaving me with a deep sense of betrayal and dearth. Rebel of the Sands wasn’t like that. I’m not sure how much it steals from actual Arabic folklore, but the rules of magic and the detailed backstory about how it came into being is impeccable. Also, there are horses! How can one not love horses?
Rebel of the Sands won the 2017 Goodreads Choice Award for Debut Goodreads Author. You can purchase it here.