Book Review: We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Publishing Info: Macmillan Children’s Books (2019)
Pages: 469

Back Cover Summary:
PEOPLE LIVED BECAUSE SHE KILLED
Zafira is the Hunter. Forced to disguise herself as a man, she braves the cursed forest to feed her people.
PEOPLE DIED BECAUSE HE LIVED
Nasir is the infamous Prince of Death, assassinating those foolish enough to defy his autocratic father, the sultan.

Both are legends in the kingdom of Arawiya – but neither wants to be.
Both are embarking on a quest to return magic to their kingdom.
But as their journey unfolds, an ancient evil begins to stir.

The first book in the Sands of Arawiya series provides a new interpretation of how to write Young Adult literature, taking inspiration from Arabian mythologies – even if the end product does seem more archetypal than I would have hoped for. 

As the protagonist, I found Zafira an interesting character in that she feels compelled to use her gift to traverse the pitch black forest of the Arz in order to feed her town – I think her struggle to disguise herself as a man to hide from the tyrannical head of her area could have been played more on in discussing dynamics of the state rather than just saying “women have no power”. However, I must admit that I found several characters popped on the page more, even those who were left behind in her hometown. The decision to have her love interest sidelined in the early stages of the novel to push her towards the other protagonist didn’t feel all that natural and slightly undermined the strength she showed in the first half of the novel.

Though Nasir was billed as the second protagonist, my thoughts on him remain squarely neutral – despite being a dangerous assassin and having a troubled past with a now mute girl, as well as constantly being a disappointment in the eyes of his father. If anything, I was more attracted to his travelling companion Altair from a character point of view, because he was the most memorable character in the book and the climax of the final battle and the epilogue were mostly focused on him. The direction for a sequel (this seems to be the first book in a series) also looks to be heading more towards his own character. I don’t think Nasir is a bad character at all but it felt like it would have made more sense if he and Altair swapped places in their roles in the concluding pages.

The narrative of this book is an archetype of adventure books; a party of rag-tag individuals go on a quest to find a mysterious item of unknown power that will restore order to their kingdom, facing many dangers as they do. I do really like the Middle Eastern-based setting for this book and the way that influences the language choice, even down to curse words and monstrous legends. I think that this is the most unique thing about We Hunt the Flame because stripping it back away will leave very little in the way of original ideas. I also really appreciated the inclusion of a glossary at the end to explain terms used throughout the book as it helped me to create a mental image from the descriptions, taking me to places and showing me images that are rare for Young Adult fiction. 

The first hundred pages or so are very successful in my eyes, introducing the lives of Zafira and Nasir in a way that also highlights what has happened to society since magic was lost, and introducing settings and characters that popped off the pages. I think that the middle of the book dragged a fair bit, with very little happening other than the odd skirmish between the group and the monsters on Sharr. It could be said that the characters travelled to this island too early in the book, but I would be prone to say that it could have been broken up by the events back in Zafira’s hometown. This is reserved to just a two page section in the epilogue and, whilst coming as a huge wallop, could have made for a great change of pace to walking around the island. Maybe this was done in order to keep focus on the protagonists but it could have added to the pace and the race-against-time sensation that this book doesn’t always hit the mark with.

We Hunt the Flame is a decent book that touches upon Middle Eastern language and mythology to provide a unique retelling of a tale that has been done many times before, characters included. It would be good to read a sequel novel, which the ending suggests is in the works, to find out the consequences of the return of magic to the kingdom of Arawiya, hopefully with a better balance of action, character development and wider context. This book is good to read if you want a different take on Young Adult adventure fiction.

Star Rating: 3/5

 

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