More Middle-eastern themed fantasy! And by a Canadian writer, though she was only born there, she mostly grew up in France, so I’m not really sure it counts for my Read Canadian Challenge. But it is one I’ve been wanting to read for a while, and when I was at Barnes & Noble for Book Club, I noticed it on the bargain shelf, so I snagged it, along with another YA fantasy based on Norse Mythology called Valkyrie. There’s two more books in the series now, Traitor to the Thone and Hero at the Fall, so I’ve requested those from the library because I really enjoy this world!
Amani is a girl in a country that doesn’t value women, and treats them as useless property only good for breeding sons. The country is basically occupied by another country that the Sultan is “allied” with, but lets run roughshod over his people. She has her sights set on escaping her backwoods, dead-end town, and running to the capital city, where the aunt she’s never met lives. All of that is derailed when she meets Jin at an underground shooting competition, and then later hides him from the armed forces hunting him.
The country is definitely middle-east inspired, but there’s a lot of religion-bashing, and complaining about the culture oppressing women. It’s the same problem I have with a lot of knight-and-castle era fantasy – just because historically in OUR world those time periods weren’t kind to women, doesn’t mean they have to be the same in fantasy. It’s FANTASY! It can be anything you want! Break the tropes! It’s a fine line to walk, taking the good parts of a culture without just cherry-picking and appropriating the culture, and who’s judging what the good and bad parts are, anyway? So I understand it’s difficult, but bashing the culture in a book inspired by their mythology is not quite cool, either. I feel like City of Brass hit a nice middle ground of embracing the culture of the inspiration without bashing parts of it.
That gripe aside, I really enjoyed the world-building. I’m not quite sold on the characters yet – Amani is far too quick to abandon things she should fight for – but I’m interested enough to see how they progress in the next two books.
From the cover of Rebel of the Sands:
Mortals rule the desert nation of Miraji, but mythical beasts still roam the wild and remote areas, and rumor has it that somewhere, djinn still perform their magic. For humans, it’s an unforgiving place, especially if you’re poor, orphaned, or female. Amani Al’Hiza is all three. She’s a gifted gunslinger with perfect aim, but she can’t shoot her way out of Dustwalk, the back-country town where she’s destined to wind up wed or dead.
Then she meets Jin, a rakish foreigner, in a shooting contest, and sees him as the perfect escape route. But though she’s spent years dreaming of leaving Dustwalk, she never imagined she’d gallop away on mythical horse—or that it would take a foreign fugitive to show her the heart of the desert she thought she knew.
This startlingly original Middle-East-meets-Wild-West fantasy reveals what happens when a dream deferred explodes—in the fires of rebellion, of romantic passion, and the all-consuming inferno of a girl finally embracing her power.