Hi friends! I’ll be incredibly honest with you: I probably should have written this a week ago. If not two weeks ago. But hey, I’m here now, ready to share my thoughts on this book!
TW/CW: verbal/physical abuse, murder, mentions of rape/sexual abuse, detailed descriptions of grief, loss of a child, torture
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 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.
We Hunt The Flame has been on my TBR far longer than forever*. However, with the recent verbal atrocities committed against this lovely author (an author of color btw) by another (white) author, I decided it was high time to just plunge into the fray. And I’m so glad I did.
*anyone who gets that rather obscure reference gets a gold star
Hafsah Faizal is a wizard with words.
Move aside Dumbledore. Faizal strings together sentences full of imagery, sentences dripping with emotion, seemingly effortlessly. Her prose hangs in the delicate balance of being both simple and dreamy. I adored it.
“The sea glistened like liquid jewels, freedom, beckoning as the Arz had. It called to her, a purr across the soft waves that sounded much like her name.
Chimes on the wind. Her name in a breeze.”
We follow the perspectives of Zafira, a girl who braves the forest no one can return from to save her people, and Nasir, the Prince of Death, who assassinates according to the sultan’s orders. I really loved Zafira, and how strong-willed she was. Her caliph (region of the kingdom) is frankly sexist against women. So obviously, watching Zafira (among others) prove that whole sentiment wrong was so, so satisfying. Also, there are strong female friendships with no caveats both in this book and the sequel which I am over the moon about! She struggles with grief, love, anger, and learning forgiveness. While at times she did feel like a typical YA protagonist, I thought she was overall well-written.
And then there’s Nasir. The Prince of Death. Forbidden from showing even an ounce of compassion or humanity. Nasir is a fascinatingly complex character to read from. He deals with a lot of trauma, and his constant internal conflict makes him unique. I didn’t always love reading from his perspective though? I do understand why he didn’t just punch his father and say “screw you, it’s not the killing for me” and strut out. Sometimes, his cycle of thoughts felt slightly repetitive. And then there would come a point where he had a big character-defining moment that fell flat, mostly because the change in his internal thoughts was so very dramatic.
“He was a mess of scars like the sky was a mess of stars. From the one stretched down his face, to the craters on his back, to the ink on his arm. For that was what scars were, weren’t they? A remembrance of moments dark.”
Originally, I was intrigued because I heard this pitched as having enemies to lovers romance. You could write a book with all my least favorite things in it such as peas and mosquitoes and the sun* but throw in enemies to lovers and I’M THERE. And I’m actually enjoying the slowburn of it all quite a lot. But it’s the friendships, the non-romantic relationships that kept me tearing through the pages. An arrogantly hilarious general named Altair, a no-nonsense warrior named Kifah, and a wise safin named Benyamin kept this gang (called a zumra in the book!) together. Enemies to lovers may be eternal, but banter keeps it from falling apart before it gets to the eternal stage.
*look, i have to make it clear that we vampires don’t like the sun much. or peas.
“But in this moment, we are two souls, marooned beneath the moon, hungry and alone, adrift in the current of what we do not understand. We hunt the flame, the light in the darkness, the good this world deserves.”
This world and magic system is really cool. We don’t get to explore much of it in this book, but the rich history present in this book, and the atmosphere of the journey keep the plot from ever feeling stale. I loved how seamlessly the Arabian influences were incorporated, whether it be through words or clothing or customs. I will say however: this is a slowly paced book. It’s also very much an internal one. We are constantly caught in the currents of thoughts and ideas and emotions.
On the other hand, the ending is an avalanche of plot twists and edge-of-your-seat moments. In this way, at least, I was reminded of Brandon Sanderson’s web of writing. While I was bored at several points throughout the book, there was a really epic payoff at the end. Unfortunately, for some people, it will most certainly not be worth it considering the length of this book. The real stakes of the story don’t begin until maybe about 150-175 pages in. It takes a long time for things to start rolling. So while I truly enjoyed the ending, this book was almost painfully slow in certain stretches leading up to it.
To be perfectly honest, while I was disappointed in some of the pacing and characters, I was impressed with this book as a debut. It’s well-written, lush and overflowing with imagination. Perhaps most importantly, it somehow manages to capture the vast, often incomprehensible range of human emotions. Between that and the insane ending, I’m giving this a 4/5 star rating. Tell me: have you read this book? Do you like slow-paced novels? You can add this to Goodreads, Storygraph, or buy it here.