Hero At The Fall by Alwyn Hamilton
WARNING: THIS POST DOES NOT CONTAIN SPOILERS FOR THE NEW BOOK, BUT IF YOU HAVEN’T READ REBEL OF THE SANDS AND/OR TRAITOR TO THE THRONE AND WISH TO, PLEASE CLICK AWAY NOW.
Rebel gunslinger Amani Al’Hiza has come so far since escaping from her dead-end town of Dustwalk. Since then, she has joined a rebellion, fallen in love, and discovered the powers simmering beneath her skin. But Rebel Prince Ahmed has been captured, presumed dead, and there is no-one else to lead the rebellion. Now Amani doesn’t have a choice but to try and rescue him from where the Sultan of Miraki has imprisoned him, the legendary city Eremot, aided only by the few remaining rebels who have survived the Sultan’s bloodthirsty attempts to wipe them out. Amani must now choose what she values most, what she needs to protect, and what she is willing to risk in order to bring a new dawn to her world. And if she chooses wrong, she might just get them all killed.
This series was a bit of a slow build for me. I read Rebel of the Sands when I was doing my semester abroad in Amsterdam, and I just couldn’t really get into it. The plot and names and places all seemed a bit of a blur, and try as I could to concentrate, I finished it without being entirely sure what I’d read. For some reason, I still went and bought book two, and this time round I found it a lot more intriguing, action-paced and easier to follow along. Having had a mixed experience with the series, I wasn’t so sure about the last book, especially because it’s been around a year since I read novel number two and I can’t remember much of what happened to the majority of the characters. Rather than a re-read, I threw myself into Hero at the Fall, hoping that I might be able to get up to speed while immersed in the book. I did pick up the majority of the plot quite easily, but there are quite a lot of characters in this series and there were quite a few that I struggled to recall until later on. A super-quick recap might have been appreciated.
But anyhow, onto the positives, and I found that Amani was still an amazingly strong character. Her personality is so bright and stark on the page, and I loved how Alwyn has crafted her to seem to lifelike. I’m glad too, that she isn’t hugely comfortable with being in charge of the rebellion. Too often, I think books try and show us a character who is a natural leader who wants to be in charge, and I found it refreshing to find that Amani is skilled enough in some regards to lead the rebellion, but isn’t really all that keen on having to make difficult decisions. And boy, there are a LOT of those throughout this book. I started getting to the point where I spent lots of time wondering what I would have done in those rock-and-hard-places moments. This book is a lot like a rollercoaster that spends a lot of time ascending until you nervously look down and realize there’s a huuuuuuge drop waiting for you. So much tension. And I loved it.
What I also found interesting is how much of the rest of the characters also seemed very realistic and developed. There were maybe a few- like the twins for instance, who could have done with a bit more fleshing out, but let’s be reasonable here, the point of a novel is not to go into a ridiculous amount of detail about every single character in the story. The ones who mattered were lifelike, and I found I wanted to learn more and more about all of them. The fairy-tale element was a nice touch too. The language was gorgeous and flowing, and the fact that I knew who the people in the story were even though they weren’t referred to by name added an extra little shot of danger, since legends and myths are so often told after heroes have died. They were usually very effective in this regard. The only time I thought they didn’t work so well is at the end. There’s such a huge build up in this book to a face-off between Amani and the rebels and the Sultan they’re trying to overthrow, but then the ending is actually very short and quick compared to the rest of the pacing, and I thought it could have done with a bit…more? More description, more action, more speech? I’m not really sure, but it seemed to be over faster than it took for me to eat the chocolate bar I’d been snacking on while reading. Follow that up with a very long epilogue-esque explanation of what happens to remaining characters and it just didn’t feel like the ending I was hoping for. There were too many ‘once upon a time’ moments after that, and by that point I wasn’t all that interested. Which sucks, because I did really like the characters, but I also wasn’t that fussed about reading 50ish pages of their lives after the real ending of the novel. I thought it dragged a lot, and could have done with some more ruthless editing.
The magic system was interesting, and one of the things I really liked about Hamilton’s world is the way the djinn try to trick people. Like the Fae, they can’t lie, but they can make you wish for something you then regret. Some of it wasn’t massively well explained, which made me lose my footing several times over, but for the most part I followed it well and thought it made sense. And the powers in this book are also pretty cool, so I was quite eager to read til the end to find out more about them. It’s definitely a world I would like to explore more if Alwyn happens to want to do short stories or a spin-off series set there. There were so many cool elements to her world-building, and the desert landscapes were definitely something I haven’t seen too much of in YA fiction. Kudos for that.
All in all, I’m glad I finished the series, and I’d happily return to Amani’s world in short story or spin-off form, but I thought the ending lacked a little je n’ais ce quois and could have done with more polishing. Amani is a queen though, and her character is honestly one of the best I’ve come across. A firm 8/10 from me.