Desert, Djinn, and Darkness || We Hunt the Flame Review

Initial Thoughts

 I was way more entertained by the second half of the book than I was on the first, so that says something about my eagerness to get into the second (and I think, hopefully, the last?) of the series. If you’re looking for a grand adventure that reads and feels like stories from Scheherazade’s 1001 Nights, this would definitely be it. Honestly not sure how to feel with all the random revelations and that sorta cliffhanger-y ending, but this was fun! Altair is my favorite, hands down, but Nasir and Zafira are obvi OTP at this point.


WE HUNT THE FLAME

by Hafsah Faizal
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, May 2019
YA fantasy, romance
Rated: 4 / 5 cookies

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 sultan. 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 Zafira and Nasir 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 sultan 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.

After all the non-YA books I’ve been reading lately, it’s hard to remember that I still find enjoyment from YA books, especially in a YA fantasy. I’ve been meaning to read We Hunt the Flame when it was released, but just never got around to it until I randomly picked it as something to read off my unread bookshelf. No regrets here. WHtF is a fun ride and kind of reads like you’re stepping into a tale from Scheherezade’s One Thousand and One Nights. It’s not groundbreaking, but I enjoyed the characters and the journey to bring back magic (though this was also reminiscent of Children of Blood and Bone, only with an Arabian twist).

People lived because she killed.

The story goes back and forth between Zafira and Nasir. Unbeknownst to everyone but her two closest friends, Zafira is the Hunter, a title to the warrior who has managed to keep an entire village alive through their ability to come back from the Arz safely. This doesn’t seem like a big deal, but the Arz is a magically growing shadow forest, and nobody–save the Hunter–has returned from journeying into its depths unscathed. While there is glory and fame in this feat, unfortunately Zafira is a woman, and it is practically forbidden for a woman to be a hunter or warrior in Demenhur, Zafira’s nation.

People died because he lived.

Meanwhile in the kingdom north of Demenhur, Nasir’s notoriety gains traction in the nation’s whispers of the Prince of Death. Nasir is an assassin and the crown prince of Sarasin. With his power-hungry father on the throne, it is only a matter of time before Nasir is putting to death all his father’s rivals in order for him to claim a more worldly title. The problem is, Nasir hates doing his father’s bidding, and every time he kills, he knows he loses more and more of his soul to the darkness and shadows around him.

It’s pretty much a story writhing in your typical YA tropes: spunky girl goes on a grand adventure, murderous bad boy goes after her because she’s his next target, hijinks happen in between, the two fall in love, and now they’re trying to save the world by subverting the gender norm ideals and facing off against a powerful shadow demon thing that’s more ancient than life itself.

Okay, so not exactly a cake walk, and I’ve glossed through some interesting plot developments and really great cultural backdrops, but in a skeletal sense, we kind of know what’s going on. If you’ve read a YA adventure story, this one doesn’t smash it out of the ballpark. The worldbuilding wasn’t as sweeping as I’d hoped (I’ve been spoiled after reading An Ember in the Ashes), but it was charming and grand, and it’s clear there is a lot of variety and politics going on outside of Demenhur and Sarasin. The romance was pretty adorable, but if you’re looking for something absolutely swoon-worthy (I swear, Six of Crows has ruined me on this front), you’re better off going a different direction.

HOWEVER, despite the tropes and clichés and overall “YA-ness” of this book, I was actually quite entertained by it. I liked the magical feel to this Arabian-esque world, and while I’ve seen complaints about this book feeling like Westernized YA slapped into a different culture, I honestly liked that a story like this can be considered universal. A girl from a Middle Eastern-inspired setting CAN go on a sweeping adventure to bring magic back into her world and find love in the process, just like a girl from an African mythology-inspired setting can do the same. She can attempt to master her control over her magic, just like a girl can learn to master all four elements in an Asian-inspired setting. She can be just like a girl who needs to gain mastery over summoning the sun from a Western European setting. I liked that language and culture is interwoven within the story. And yeah, I’m not gonna be able to pinpoint the cultural faux pas like someone who’s more well-versed in Arabia, but to me, there was enough to give a taste of a culture outside my own.

Also, can we all just appreciate how beautiful this map is?! I’m a sucker for fantasy maps. I go back to them all the time.

I had no complaints about the characters, though I do wish there’s more to be shown later on. I felt like there was a lot more of Zafira’s development than Nasir, and while I did love the party banter–especially from Altair–I felt the main characters falling in love with each other seemed a bit too sudden. Don’t get me wrong, there were some great scenes: the fight, the bathing scene (because of course the bathing scene), “fair gazelle,” and the whole compass-in-the-darkness. I just felt like much of this got resolved too soon, and whatever slow burn I was hoping to get in a span of two books kind of gets a bit resolved in the first book. But then again, maybe I’ll be proven wrong. We’ll see.

4 out of 5 cookies! Definitely worth the read, and I’d recommend this to my students hands down. Also, there were so many mentions of Middle Eastern foods that I need to make some of them at some point…


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