We Hunt the Flame
Series: The Sands of Arawiya, #1
Author: Hafsah Faizal
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 is exposed as a girl, all of her achievements will be rejected; if Nasir displays his compassion, his father will 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 darkness. While 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.
Rating: Interesting, layered characters; Magical, unique world-building; Emotional
The First Review:
It ought to be pretty easy, but I have no idea how to start. So this is going to be pretty rambling and disorganizing. And pardon me, I can’t say much of anything except “the characters have unique personalities, and histories and motivations that get slowly revealed throughout the book, the magic is pretty neat, oh, it has a pretty major romantic subplot,” without getting into what might be at least minor spoilers. Oh, and pretty prose, even if it is occasionally overdone with words like ‘laved’ thrown in when they’re really not necessary.
So that’s your warning. I’ll try to keep the really major spoilers for the next part, but there will be some minor ones in here. Though I might mention first how I got this book: I read a short review of it in another blogger’s list of comfort reads, thought it was interesting but was unsure from the review if it was something I’d like or that I’d hate, asked for a spoiler, and then decided to get it.
Anyway, into a bit more of a review.
So, it starts off pretty dramatic and inciting, with some interesting things happening to and around Zafira. But then it makes up for that (in my opinion) by quieting down a little and showing everyday life: her friends, Yasmine’s wedding, Deen – the man who loves her, but whom she loves as friend, not as a man she’d marry – the personality of her group and how she lives her life when she’s not the Hunter. And her personal struggles and conflict between herself. (And something I really liked was that Zafira never does reciprocate Deen’s love other than as a friend; I was afraid she would, since so many books are like that, but she never does. And he loves her in his own way so staunchly it was really heart-touching. Fighting to go with her on the quest for the Jawarat.)
“Just as there is no man more likely to succeed than the Hunter” – he stopped, and there was another shuddering draw, “there is no man in Arawiya more loyal to the Hunter than I.”
In the silence, the shards of Zafira’s heart crumbled.
Meanwhile, Nasir is sent to assassinate a scholar, and it would be so easy to hate him, but even from the first few pages, there’s such an intense sense that there is more to his story, much more, than is immediately obvious.
All the characters have compelling, unique personalities that come to life in different ways, and complex relationships that develop between them. Themes of grief, identity, and fear are dealt with, and deaths – whether in the past, before the first page, or during the book – are not over, done, and passed, but something endured, the grief re-lived, sometimes returned to. The romance plays a very strong role, and there’s a lot of internal conflict, as well as inter-personal conflict. Sometimes the characters frustrated me so much, but then again I don’t usually enjoy romance very much, especially romances that are – well, more romantic, and less platonic-sweet. I can say it didn’t pull me out of the book, which is actually something to be said for a romance like this one.
One of the things that I’m not sure how I felt about was how, as the book progresses, everything falls into place. Everything has been planned, arranged. Everyone is inter-connected in so many ways, on so many levels, the whole quest and all its member long planned, plotted, drawn together. It was … okay, but it spoiled something for me. A feeling of chaos, spontaneity.
The story is very, very character-driven, and the plot and action often takes second place to that. It did not bother me, since I read for the characters, but there were times when it seems like the author uses a Time spell to make the action halt so the characters can have their conversation, before things start again. There were moments in the middle of epic fights, where it seems as if the fight is forgotten (and what is going on? How does the enemy not kill them all?) while the characters talk and focus on their emotions.
The Second Review (Here’s Where You Could Learn Who Dies, Among Other Things):
With a line like that – hah!
There’s three races: the magical Si’lah of whom the Six Sisters who gave magic to Arawiya and are now lost, came; humans, who are … humans; and the safin, immortal but otherwise no more magical than humans. One of the characters in the Zumra, the group, on Sharr (the island where they must look for the Jawarat) is one of these: Benyamin. I liked Benyamin. He has a very nice way of speaking. At the end, he dies, to keep the Lion of the Night from killing Nasir.
Beyamin spoke lightly. “Now I know what it is like to live as a mortal. Death” – he pressed his lips together against the pain, his brown eyes soft – “is a welcome truth.”
“Remember me, eh? Say hello to my beloved, but not my sister,” Benyamin whispered.
Altair sobbed a laugh.
Benyamin struggled to smile. He cupped Altair’s face. “I seized it. Strength was mine. But it turns out” – he coughed, and more blood spurted from his wound – “the price of dum sihr is always great.”
And, in my opinion, do not read this book unless you are ready to read We Free the Stars next, since it ends with Altair abandoned on the isle of Sharr in the power of their enemy, the Lion of the Night, and I still haven’t read We Free the Stars since I’m waiting for the paperback.
There’s some really neat stuff about and between Zafira and Nasir after their capture, but I can’t decide what lines to quote, so – it was interesting, with the taste of the uniqueness of human experience, the mixed feelings. For example, when Zafira sees that Nasir has also been captured, she sort of isn’t happy about it, but also is sort of relieved because she feels less alone. Her responses – and his – struck me as very human.
And earlier, there was another piece I remember as I write this that struck a chord. When Zafira finally learns how – if it can be called learning how – that she finds her way, that it’s her magic affinity, then instead of trusting her intuition and being, she thinks about it, and gets lost, and has to re-learn it.
I ought to have more to say, but it’s been a long time since I read this one – it seems there’s an ideal time for me to write a review, not too soon after the reading, but not too long after, that varies a bit from book to book, but this one has been a long time. And I’m tired, with a lot to do, so this will do. I wish I could give every book the review it deserves, but I can’t.