Before I get to my review, let’s give the author, Alwyn Hamilton the first word:
As she says, Rebel of the Sands is a fantasy novel set in a world that is two-thirds Arabian Nights and one-third weird western. It features magic, Djinni and other mythical creatures — as well as a brave, reckless young heroine, Amani Al’Hiza, who grew up in a backwater village called Dustwalk and taught herself to shoot against all the customs and prohibitions of her society. From the opening scene, where she sneaks into a shooting competition disguised as a boy, Amani is engaging, likable, stubborn and determined above all else to escape her miserable life.
And there’s a rebellion going on in the Desert — a nearly legendary Prince who disappeared years ago, but whose followers are still at large, fighting against the local tyrant and his foreign allies. And though Amani doesn’t think of herself as political, she will soon be swept up in the intrigue and wonder of the rebellion.
Rebel of the Sands is an exciting story, set in an original world full of mystery and magic. It is the first book in a trilogy (apparently — at least, there are three books so far) and I wasted no time leaping on the second.
I often tell people that my roots as a storyteller are sunk deep in comic books and soap operas. Inside, I’m still the kid that compulsively collected every issue of comic book series I was interested in and scheduled my freshman college courses around General Hospital so I could keep up with Luke and Laura. I’ve always been a sucker for any kind of continuing storyline — so much so that I actually try to be careful what TV shows I start watching or what comic strips I start reading. There’s only so many hours in a day.
Like me, you probably didn’t know you needed a novel length Kara Danvers/Lena Luthor romance, complete with an engaging mystery plot. But here it is. I was absolutely hooked from the first installment.
And that’s the real joy and danger of the Internet/Netflix age for someone like me. Never before in history has there been such a flood of entertainment available. As a life-long television junkie, who remembers the day where there were only five channels on my television — one of which was PBS and another the local channel that showed only re-runs of old shows — I am constantly floored by the sheer volume of really good television available today. No matter what your genre is, there is literally so much good television out there that you cannot watch it all. It’s impossible. I’ve tried.
The same is true, now, in publishing. The advent of Amazon, ebooks, Kindle Unlimited, and other platforms means there is a glut of reading material available. The common wisdom is that most self-published fiction is badly written and poorly edited — and there’s enough truth in that to keep the attitude alive. Honestly, though, Theodore Sturgeon long ago observed that “90% of everything is crap”, and while I’ve always thought that estimate was a little too high, it applies here. Yes, there’s a lot of dreck out there — manuscripts that should never have been released to the public. But there’s a lot of incredible, quirky, original stuff out there too which is a joy to read and which would never have reached an audience in the old publishing paradigm.
Take this for instance.
Extra Credit Epidemic, by Nina Post. A young adult novel centering around an outbreak of food poisoning, featuring Taffy Snackerge, a teen obsessed with infectious diseases and picking up girls. All she wants to do is track down the source of the outbreak, but her mentor, an eccentric teacher with issues of his own, forces her to work with two other misfit students, the neurotically neat President of the Young Attachés Club, and a boy who can’t go anywhere in public without wearing a Mexican wrestling mask. Part mystery, part teen romance, part coming-of-age story, I guarantee you’ve never read anything like this before. I absolutely loved it. And it comes from Curiosity Quills Press — one of the quirkiest and most unique small presses around.
Otters in Space: The Search for Cat Havanaby Mary E. Lowd. Imagine a world where humans have disappeared. Dogs are mostly in charge, leaving Cats as second class citizens. The Dogs even have a religion about the First Race, believing that humans will return to take them along to the stars. Meanwhile, Otters have built their own space program. They control the orbiting space station which is the gateway to the Solar System. Kipper is a Cat who doesn’t like the way things are but doesn’t know how to change them. When her sister, who is running for local office, disappears, Kipper takes off to find her. Accompanied by the Dog thug hired to kill her, Kipper unravels a conspiracy that will lead her to the Otter space station — and maybe to a secret Cat utopia where they can live free of Dogs. Otters in Space is endlessly creative in the way only the best science fiction is, filled with charming, unusual, fully realized characters that will tug at your heartstrings at every turn. One of my favorite books of the last few years.
And while I’m on the subject of Mary E. Lowd, she has become one of my favorite authors, and one I don’t know how I ever would have found in the old days — before the internet, ebooks and the like. I would encourage everyone to check out the Free Fiction page on her website.
And I couldn’t wind up my post without mentioning this: My Best New Thing in the World for the past month. The famous detective Dick Tracy attending a cosplay convention with his granddaughter Honeymoon, as she explains to him what furries are.
If you are a superhero fan, then I don’t really need to sell you on this book. Just quit reading now and go get it.
If you’re not a superhero fan, then 1) what’s wrong with you? And 2) Do you like stories with funny, flawed heroines, a little bit of romance, work-place drama, family tensions, and the promise of redemption? Well in that case, you can go pick up this book too.
S.J. Delos describes himself as a “typical geek” from Greensboro, NC, who has always loved comic books and enjoys making up his own stories. Move the setting just over the state line into South Carolina and that could describe my own childhood. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons I love this book so much.
Karen Hashimoto has just gotten out of super-max prison and is trying to put her life back together. She must deal with a sleazy parole officer, paranoid landlords and a bunch of other people who don’t want to let her forget that she was once the super-villain Crushette — the right hand and love interest of the infamous Dr. Maniac.
But then she gets caught in the middle of a super-rumble between a gang of villains and Mr. Manpower — a member of the city’s premier superhero group, The Good Guys. Karen helps round up the miscreants and before she knows it she’s been invited to audition for the team.
Her struggle to fit in with her new allies, to redeem her past mistakes, and to convince the world that she can be different is the heart of this fun, surprisingly moving novel.
Some people might remember that I used to have several blogs: Books and Beasts, which focused on book reviews, Birdland West, which was about birding and wildlife, plus a space for personal reflections on whatever caught my (admittedly scattered) attention.
It’s been a while since any of those blogs were active. I’ve dragged my feet about re-building this site. But in the meantime I’ve been writing. My most recently completed novel Mouthpiece is currently making the rounds of agents and publishers. I’m at work on a sequel and several other projects.
But it feels like it’s time to resurrect the public space. So here we are.
All those old topics will be coming up often in this blog often. Writing, books, music, movies, television, baseball, animals, current events. Give me a little time and themes will hopefully begin to emerge.
I will also be putting up an archive of the best of my previous blogs for anyone who might remember it fondly — or who is just curious.
So here we go, up and running again. I’ll try to keep it interesting.
"All that I hope to say in books, all that I ever hope to say, is that I love the world." –E.B. White