I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Traitor to the Throne by Alwyn Hamilton
Release date: March 7th, 2017
Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers
Genre: Young adult, fantasy
Mere months ago, gunslinger Amani al’Hiza fled her dead-end hometown on the back of a mythical horse with the mysterious foreigner Jin, seeking only her own freedom. Now she’s fighting to liberate the entire desert nation of Miraji from a bloodthirsty sultan who slew his own father to capture the throne.
When Amani finds herself thrust into the epicenter of the regime—the Sultan’s palace—she’s determined to bring the tyrant down. Desperate to uncover the Sultan’s secrets by spying on his court, she tries to forget that Jin disappeared just as she was getting closest to him, and that she’s a prisoner of the enemy. But the longer she remains, the more she questions whether the Sultan is really the villain she’s been told he is, and who’s the real traitor to her sun-bleached, magic-filled homeland.
Forget everything you thought you knew about Miraji, about the rebellion, about djinni and Jin and the Blue-Eyed Bandit. In Traitor to the Throne, the only certainty is that everything will change.
“I thought about revenge and about love and about sacrifice and the great and terrible things I’d seen people do. I thought about how many people I’d seen lay their lives down for the Rebellion, over and over.”
Rebel of the Sands was one of my favourite reads from 2016. I fell madly in love with everything about it — the artwork, the blend of Arabian Nights and the Wild West, magic, romance. So, you can imagine how excited I was when I was approved to review the book on NetGalley. But…sequels are a tricky thing, especially when the reader loved the first book so much. It’s difficult to recapture the magic, everything that made it special and then up the stakes so it’s different but still familiar. So… the question is, did I like Traitor to the Throne? Yes. Did I enjoy it more than Rebel of the Sands? Sadly, not at all.
Traitor to the Throne was well written, even amazing at times, but it lacked a lot of the things that I had loved about Rebel of the Sands. For instance:
- Where was the action? The book sorely lacked battle scenes or gunslinging in general. One of the things that stood out to me in the first book was the fact that the lead character was a badass. Amani was sassy, strong and an amazing sharpshooter. You just didn’t want to mess with her.
- Speaking of Amani, she’s absolutely wasted in this sequel. It began promisingly enough. She’s in the desert, holding her own, hatching a plan and being her awesome self. Then the story shifts to her being powerless and stuck in the Sultan’s harem. She lost some of the spark that made her such a special character.
- Jin! Oh Jin *sigh* I adored him and the romance he had with Amani in the first book. The problem? He’s basically MIA in the sequel. Why?!?! And I hated how Amani was angry with him for most of the story as well. These two deserve better!
- The characters I cared about the most just didn’t get enough time on the pages. There are tons of new characters, most of which I don’t even remember. Yes, Amani spends a lot of time in the Sultan’s harem, there are a lot of women, I get that. But it was like this is this person and we’ll mention her once more and then never again. It was difficult to see why so many precious words were wasted on characters that never became anything when more about the secondary characters introduced in Rebel of the Sands could have been explored.
- The first book was fast paced and hard to put down. I read through it in a day or two and wanted to read it again and again. Traitor to the Throne was a mixed bag when it came to pacing. 500+ pages seemed like overkill. So did some of the overly long chapters. A lot could have been edited out to quicken the pace. I didn’t feel the urgency to continue reading.
That all said, it wasn’t all disappointment. Things that I quite enjoyed were:
- The myths about the Dijinni, star crossed lovers and ancient scholars. Hamilton’s stories are so interesting and heartbreakingly beautiful. Can I please just have a book of these please?
- Learning more about the Dijinni and their magic.
- The political intrigue and backstabbing. Amani was faced with a lot of tough decisions. Who to trust? What are their motives? What will she have to give in return?
- Some characters that I had written off made a return and man were they not what I expected.
I do want to mention that as much as I love this series, there are some things that bothered me and they became even more evident this time around. These books take place in a world inspired by the Middle East and tend to perpetuate negative stereotypes about cultures found in the region or Islam. It tells the reader that this area is full of misogyny and oppression. Women are often portrayed as inferior to men. In the first book, Amani is told that she needs a husband and her uncle frequently threatens to beat her. What?! In Traitor to the Throne, woman are simply playthings that look beautiful and reproduce. When they are no longer needed they are simply “disappeared”. The Sultan is also portrayed as a murdering despot, a man who only cares about himself and lets his people starve and fight it out. I think you can still enjoy this series and be aware of the problematic representation it contains. This is NOT what the Middle East or Islam is! It is important to keep that in mind when reading.
So, while I did kind of enjoy Traitor to the Throne, I can now say that I won’t be going into the third book with as much enthusiasm as I had before. Still, this is simply my opinion. I’ve seen a lot of positive reviews and those who enjoyed Rebel of the Sands should give this sequel a read.
Alwyn Hamilton was born in Toronto and spent her childhood bouncing between Europe and Canada until her parents settled in France. She grew up in a small town there, which might have compelled her to burst randomly into the opening song from Beauty and the Beast were it not for her total tone-deafness. She instead attempted to read and write her way to new places and developed a weakness for fantasy and cross-dressing heroines. She left France for Cambridge University to study History of Art at King’s College, and then to London where she became indentured to an auction house. She has a bad habit of acquiring more hardcovers than is smart for someone who moves house quite so often.