We Hunt The Flame By Hafsah Faizal Book Review
Title: We Hunt The Flame
Author: Hafsah Faizal
Genre: YA Fantasy
Rating: ★★★★★ (5/5)
Description: People lived because she killed.
People died because he lived.
Zafira is the Hunter, disguising herself as a man when she braves the cursed forest of the Arz to feed her people. Nasir is the Prince of Death, assassinating those foolish enough to defy his autocratic father, the king. If Zafira was exposed as a girl, all of her achievements would be rejected; if Nasir displayed his compassion, his father would punish him in the most brutal of ways.
Both are legends in the kingdom of Arawiya—but neither wants to be.
War is brewing, and the Arz sweeps closer with each passing day, engulfing the land in shadow. When Zafira embarks on a quest to uncover a lost artifact that can restore magic to her suffering world and stop the Arz, Nasir is sent by the king on a similar mission: retrieve the artifact and kill the Hunter. But an ancient evil stirs as their journey unfolds—and the prize they seek may pose a threat greater than either can imagine.
Set in a richly detailed world inspired by ancient Arabia,We Hunt the Flameis a gripping debut of discovery, conquering fear, and taking identity into your own hands.
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The story in We Hunt The Flame is that of Zafira, the Demenhur hunter, and Nasir, the prince of death. It follows the winding trail of both as their stories intersect on a journey to bring back magic to Arawiya - something believed to have been long lost. The book is the first in a series by Hafsah Faizal and the second is set to be released in 2021 after being pushed back due to COVID related concerns.
We Hunt The Flame is filled with the disease of darkness that shrouds Arawiya. Where We Hunt The Flame takes place, is enchanting even after magic is drained from the land and only a memory in the minds of its citizens. The world-building is captivating in its unique elements alongside ones drawn from Arabia. Alive is only one way to describe the landscape of the book. It changes with the mood and either flourishes or tatters to pieces alongside it.
In Arawiya, and its sometimes foreign notions is an underlying normalcy shared by the characters. A power struggle between the Sultan and the Caliphs is a driving force behind the entire course of events that takes place. Magic isn't just a mythical force but rather it is tied to the economic, environmental, social, and political of Arawiya. This breathes a sense of authenticity into the story as it adapts the power-hunger ambitions of men, which are familiar in our reality, and a world filled with much more magic than our current one.
The classist system built on misogyny in some part of Arawiyais is true to form as it has taken on a life of its own in the lives of everyone - especially women such as Zafira, the hunter. A shared past of the entirety of Arawiya and every individual shape how the book unfolds in the present day. The book doesn't spare the reader any of the harsh realities of Arawiya. They bring the grimmest of truths to life.
The Arz, a forest at the center of the narrative, is moving and watchful. Everything is personified in a wonderfully vivid way. You can practically feel the breath of the Arz and the movement of the sands. It flows and ebbs between life in connection to one another.
Rumors spread through the caliphates of Nasir and Zafira. It is intriguing to listen to the whispers uttered by others from their dual POVs. Zafira possesses the same brokenness as Nasir, though it has lead them down two very different paths. Nasir's littered with death and Zafira's with survival. The conflicting existence of the main characters makes the book stand out in the very blatant contrast between them. It is present from the moment their POVs start. Their trajectories, while not aligned, converge together on the island of Shar.
Nasir is an elaborate character from the moment we meet him. His life is that of greed and selfishness fueled by the Sultan. Almost from the beginning, the reader is faced with the toll of Nasir's job on other's lives and his own - though him refusing to do so also comes with its own set of consequences. Despite having access to the best of the best being the prince, Nasir is jaded beyond recognition of the boy he must have once been. He believes his heart to be blackened and bruised so far as to be unusable - except that's not entirely the case.
He is an assassin who at times refuses to claim the title hashashin because of an internal moral struggle. This is an even more interesting battle given his semi-defeated vantage point. Nasir believes himself the monster of his father's creation and it haunts his every waking hour. The true testament to the greatness of this book is seeing the falsehood of this and watching him discover it on his own. Seeing that development is a wonderful inclusion to present him as a fully fleshed character.
Zafira is a delicate balance of compassion and defiance. A need to protect her family is at odds with her craving to prove that women in Demenhur are not incapable of greatness. She is a woman in Arawiya which presents its own set of expectations - or rather lack of. There's a fear that every accomplishment under her belt disguised as a man will become useless once her true identity is discovered. She is a character who has long been focused on a singular goal of providing for her people. She has never had the chance to merge her two identities, Zafira and the hunter, for fear her gender wouldn't allow it.
In the midst of Zafira's charade as the hunter, there is also a woman who is victim to the same circumstances as the rest of us. She is broken due to losses outnumbering her joys and determined to steel her heart from more pain. Zafira's boundless potential, both as the compass and a person, and character leap from the page. She possesses a quality of selflessness that is bittersweet in what it means for the sacrifices she will make for those she loves.
The people in Demenhur, or at least those surrounding Zafira, warm the cold location being overcome by the Arz. Zafira has a support system of beautifully bright loved ones. Women predominantly who shine brighter than the snow of Demenhur. Along with her blood family, who are vital to Zafira's origins, she also finds herself a family of her heart. A quiet solidarity stands among Zafira and those she loves including Yasmine and Lana, her friend and sister who play a small but important role in the book if not always visible.
The relationships built on history and love hit the reader in the chest with every exchange. Relationships wrought with anger and guilt tie the story together. A connecting ribbon between the magical world and the journey the characters must partake in. Ultimately the cause of every important decision and action is founded on the bonds of everyone Zafira and Nasir love. Even the connections the reader deems unimportant become incredibly meaningful through the author's portrayal.
Zafira is determined to never allow a weakness such as romantic love to creep into her heart. Yasmine claims one day a person will make her dead cheeks blush. What I loved about this discussion is that, while it is seen as a hopeful possibility, there's no assertion that it takes away some of their autonomy - more so a happy bonus to their lives as women.
However, Nasir is the factor she couldn't have foreseen. Zafira and Nasir both find love to be the greatest mistake a person can make. Their journey to each other is blanketed in that one simple belief. The introduction of Zafira and Nasir is explosive. It has been anticipated for the whole novel but in that instance you're still recovering from a previous loss that tilts the expectations you may have on their axis. It feels different than was imagined but somehow better.
Zafira and Nasir aren't a typical pairing. They push and challenge each other because they expect so much from the other. Nasir has spent so much time sharpening the thorns around himself that he is uncertain how to proceed given Zafira's, the huntress's, indifference to them. Zafira finds herself forgetting everything she wants to cling to in regards to Nasir. He is the prince. He is a murderer. The mantra is constant to her.
Characterization is tightly intertwined with who these people really are and who they pretend to be. Hafsah Faizal is a master at the introduction of characters and ideas that are just enough to seduce the reader further into the book's clutches. Characters are written in such a believable way as they're embedded in a familiar culture to the author. All the cast, even when they are completely broken down, remain true to their identities and the simmering spark within them. The allies of circumstance on Shar are a peculiar mix. Their differences complement each other and draw out of one another what may have remained hidden.
Hafsah Faizal forms the scenes of raw emotion so they cave a chasm into the chest of the reader. The author manages to take the smallest phrase and pack it with a searing punch. The writing style pulls at the heartstrings. It takes and takes until the reader is left believing they are empty with nothing left to give - only to be proven wrong during the next wave of emotions. Fire surges in the softest, most intimate of scenes. The author writes intimate details like the recitation of a prayer, sacred and reverent.
The writing is never dull or bland. It's constantly challenging the reader and their perceptions. Whenever you think you've adjusted to the rhythm of the book, there is always something else to knock you off your feet. Each cog in the grand scheme of the story serves a purpose, though it may not be apparent at first. The dialogue is clever and sleek as it intertwines the characters in a war of wits. Conversations glide along fine lines of love and loss, passion and calm. The author writes combat so it mimics a choreographed dance of strength and grace with every movement calculated.
We Hunt The Flame is a magnificent Arabian-inspired tale of a fantasy place like Arawiya and the people who blossom in it in spite of the curse running through the land. It is told in the dual POVs of Zafira and Nasir who have lived so differently from one another but have an immediate connection through their shared pain. If anyone were to ask me for a wonderfully magnetic and captivating fantasy read, this diverse story would be the first to be uttered from my lips.
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