Book name: Traitor to the Throne
Author: Alwyn Hamilton
Publisher: Faber and Faber
Format: ebook, print, audiobook
Publication Date: 2017
Star Rating: 4/5
Not every fantasy book is easy to categorise, and ours is a broad genre.
But even with that in mind, Traitor to the Throne by Alwyn Hamilton takes its inspiration from so many cultures and times that it is a challenging book to place.
Perhaps that matters less than the fact that it is definitely fantasy.
Traitor to the Throne is the second part of the 'Rebel of the Sands' trilogy. Amani, the Blue-Eyed Bandit, is a Demdji. This gives her unique abilities, such as the power to order sand to do her bidding, that come in very handy in her desert home.
However, it also comes with its limitations. Being a Demdji means that she is unable to lie. When asked a direct question, Amani must answer truthfully, even if it means betraying her friends in the rebel army.
The rebel army is in the process of challenging the Sultan of Miraji for his throne on behalf of Ahmed, one of his sons.
Ahmed and his brother Jin fled after one of the Sultan’s wives gave birth to their sister Delilah, whose natural father was a Djinni or spirit. The Sultan murders this wife when he discovers that the child is not his.
Years later, the rebel army is able to challenge for power in Miraji, taking advantage of regional weaknesses. However, their task is not an easy one. They have already suffered setbacks, and when Traitor to the Throne opens some of them have been captured.
I liked Amani for her resilience and determination. Traitor to the Throne was told in the first person, unusually for a fantasy novel given the typical length of the narrative.
The choice of the first-person perspective worked. The story was carefully structured to focus entirely on events where Amani was present. Some clever plot devices were utilised to make this possible, and I never felt that these were overly contrived.
The choice of a first-person perspective always comes at a cost, however. I would very much like to have seen other events during the uprising. Amani spends quite a lot of the novel inside the Sultan’s palace, almost entirely cut off from her allies in the rebel army.
This meant that what little the reader saw of outside events was rendered via reporting rather than direct action.
The primary benefit of the first-person, however, is how naturally and entirely it allowed the reader to inhabit Amani’s point of view. It was definitely worth the sacrifices involved to share her emotions and thoughts directly.
I very much enjoyed the melting pot of society provided by Alwyn Hamilton in Traitor to the Throne. In some ways, the world portrayed was similar to that of Peter V Brett’s fantasy novels, which draw extensively on Muslim culture and lore.
However, the presence of guns and trains in the desert environment introduced strong notes of the Weird West. This was no medieval fictional universe!
The culture embodied by Amani owed little to the Muslim culture drawn so vividly by Peter V Brett. Amani was very much a western woman. However, the Sultan and his harem, along with the extensive use of Djinni legends from Muslim lore lay at the heat of the narrative, too.
It was intriguing to see two very different desert cultures side by side in this way.
Traitor to the Throne worked. I loved every page and can’t wait to devour the final book in the trilogy.
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If you’ve enjoyed this review, you might be interested reading in my review of The Steel Remains by Richard K Morgan.
Or you might like to take a look at my review of Tyrant’s Blood by Fiona McIntosh.
If you fancy something different, you might like to take a chance on my review of The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover.