A fleshed out story filled with Middle Eastern mythologies and dark magic. What else was I going to do than love it?
Title: We Hunt the Flame
Author: Hafsah Faizal (American Muslim author)
Genre: YA fantasy
Themes: Enemies to lovers, dark magic, political turmoil
First publication: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (May 2019)
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ (5 stars)
What I liked: The rich mythology and political turmoil that builds up the world. The diverse characters that receive the development they all deserve.
What I didn’t like: It wasn’t longer and the sequel isn’t released yet???
What is this? We Hunt the Flame is a YA fantasy I didn’t know I needed until I started reading it. It’s written by Hafsah Faizal, who wanted to write a Middle Eastern inspired story that introduces readers to a world that isn’t as twisted as mainstream media says it is. The story takes place in Arawiya, a land built up from different caliphates. When the Sisters of Old were vanquished it was cursed with constant snow and a dark forest bringing its shadows over the lands. Women aren’t praised in the same way as men so Zafira, who hunts for food for her people, disguises herself as a man. She’s known throughout the caliphates as The Hunter. Soon she finds herself on a quest to retrieve a lost artefact that can bring magic back to Arawiya. But on her journey she’ll have to face monsters, both literally and figuratively. She’ll be confronted with Nasir, the Prince of Death, notorious heartless hashashin who’s sent to assassinate Zafira and retrieve the artefact for the Sultan.
“Who decides what’s out of reach, if not we ourselves?”
Why did I decide to read this? This book has been on my TBR for a long time because I want to explore more Muslim authors. Not only to explore more books in general but also to hear more voices and experience more sincere diversity. I chose this book to read next because I was about to DNF a heavy historical fiction and I needed some good magic to soothe me. And it worked!
Reading the book, we follow Zafira and Nasir and how they struggle to find their place in the world. While Zafira struggles with her image as The Hunter and discovers what it might be to be herself, Nasir is confronted with an inner conflict of obeying or following his own feelings. These character developments are also spiced with some damn good dark magic, which makes this book a hell of a ride.
My review: Be still my heart, for this book has all I ever wanted. Dark fantasy, slow burn enemies, rich world-building and cultural mythologies, strong females, humor. The writing, from the beginning on, was song-like. It’s full of beautiful, relatable quotes that make you think about themes of love, friendship and family. It builds up a world richly filled with mythologies, dark magic and conflict.
“You were told to hunt down the lost Jawarat, and here you are, like moths hunting a flame, blindly reaching for mirage to break the decades-long curse over our lands.”
Each page you turn is full of adventure, whether it be the literal or mental kind. We switch between Nasir and Zafira’s perspectives, which gives a state of urgency to find out how everything pans out. At some point in the book the two perspectives join and things start to get real interesting. Each character we meet, even the secondary ones, have their own motivations and backstory, which only gives the book more purpose. The backstories are painfully human and politically detailed which brings you through an emotional state of curiosity and empathy. Seriously though, the quotes I annotated are *chef’s kiss*.
“He likened the sultan’s voice to a snake, softly creeping into his veins and penetrating his heart with venom.”
The first half of the book sweeps you through introductions and backstories of characters. It slowly builds up to the middle where the real adventurous quest begins. Although it’s building up slowly, it’s not a negative thing. The writing is done in such a way you’re still left hungry for more. You receive information about the history of Arawiya, the characters and their relationships with each other, and what their motivations are in life. After the build-up, characters meet and interact with each other, creating more intrigue, questions and conflict. It’s a chain of events that leads you through several high points. Towards the end, this book had me shaken to the core because of three major plot reveals. Yes, three. And thinking about it afterwards, the reveals themselves aren’t extremely unique but surprise still took over me because I was too enthralled by what happened at that moment, than to think about what could happen next.
The book takes inspiration from Middle Eastern mythologies and I felt educated to learn about them (let’s be real, a pasty white cis female only receives obligatory white European history lessons when enrolled in 90’s educational programs). It was extremely fun to see how Hafsah Faizal incorporated these myths. There’s, for example, Bahamut, a sea monster described by Zakariya al-Qazwini, Persian astronomer and writer. Or Bashmu, a Mesopotomian horned snake with legs and wings. These mythologies are described in the book throughout some dark adventure scenes that give Zafira the challenge of reaching her goal.
“Think of all the women you can help by being you.”
What I also immensely enjoyed is the strong female characterisation. All females in this story are strong as heck, while still having faults. But Zafira. Zafira was a wild ride. Her conflict with her identity is described in such a beautiful way, I was rooting for her from the beginning. Her skills as a huntress, her relationship with her family, the way she defends others and herself from turmoil. It all builds up her character so well. And to contrast Zafira, there’s also Nasir. Nasir, with his inner turmoil of an assassin, but also a son, future Caliph and friend. Both are honestly really fleshed out and it’s one of the few times I’m actually rooting for all main characters.
But it doesn’t end there; Faizal creates characters that top Nasir and Zafira. But I won’t do this book injustice by talking about them because my recommendation is to read as little as possible in summaries and articles. Just pick up the book, start reading and let yourself immerse in the rich world of Arawiya.
So finishing this book, I felt extremely content. It’s a feeling hard to describe, especially in a review. Hafsah Faizal’s writing just has a way of pulling you in and slamming you across the room, overwhelming you with human motivations and conflict. And to top that, for anyone that’s not familiar with Middle Eastern language, the author has published a glossary and pronunciation guide on her website. Although I know most words and pronunciation throughout my work experience, it was still enjoyable to explore her descriptions and read what was taken from mythologies.
Overall feeling: Incoherent, overwhelming awe for a debut novel filled with fierce characters, rich and lyrical writing and lush storylines.
Do I recommend this book? If someone would ask me a fantasy in any age category, I would give this book. I would even recommend this book for people who aren’t that known with fantasy books. I think this is a nice way of introducing yourself to what a fantasy book can do to you (which is a lot).
What will I do after this book? Stalk the author on Twitter for more news on the sequel?
Hope you enjoyed my review! Have you read this book?