They said the only folk who belonged in Deadshot after dark were the ones who were up to no good. I wasn’t up to no good. Then again, I wasn’t exactly up to no bad, either.
I slid from Blue’s saddle and tethered her to a post behind some bar called the Dusty Mouth. The kid sitting up against the fence was sizing me up suspiciously. Or maybe that was just his two black eyes. I tugged the wide brim of my hat lower as I stepped out of the yard. I’d stolen the hat from my uncle, along with the horse. Well, borrowed, more like. Everything I owned belonged to my uncle anyway, according to law, down to the clothes on my back.
The doors of the bar banged open, spilling out light and noise and a fat drunk with his arm around a pretty girl. My hand snapped to my sheema before I could think better of it, checking it was still tightly fastened so the better part of my face was covered. I was wrapped up to my eyes, and even hours after sunset I was sweating under the padding like a sinner at prayers. I figured I looked more like a lost nomad than a real sharpshooter, but so long as I didn’t look like a girl it didn’t much matter.
Amani has grown up in a small industrial town that offers few possibilities for a girl to shape her own destiny. Taking matters into her own hands, she adopts a disguise and enters herself into a shooting contest in nearby Deadshot, gambling almost everything she has for the chance to win enough money to run away to the city of Izman.
I’m always going to be well disposed towards a book where the heroine starts with a gun in her hand, especially when she demonstrates within the first few pages that she’s a crack shot. It’s soon clear that there’s only one person in the room who might have the skills to match Amani’s: a mysterious foreign lad with whom she strikes up an uneasy truce as the contest develops. Unfortunately, the evening doesn’t quite go as planned — Amani creeps back to her uncle’s house, disappointed, but her evening’s adventure will have consequences that follow her home.
I loved the settings of this book, from the dead-end town of Dustwalk, to the railway that roars through the dessert, to a camel train trekking across the sands. Although everywhere is hot and dry and dusty, there’s no shortage of nuance separating these different environments, and I found myself completely immersed. There are fantastical elements woven into legend and life, semi-mythical beings who are still seen from time to time in the deep dessert. At the more mundane end, the regional politics were also richly drawn. The Sultan rules with an iron fist, holding an uneasy alliance with manipulative foreign powers, and much of the plot revolves around a disturbing arms race. All of this comes together into something really special.
But above all, I loved Amani, who will do anything to secure her freedom, until she finds herself aligned with a cause that’s worth risking everything — even herself.