Title: We Hunt the Flame
Author: Hafsah Faizal
Rating: 3/5 stars
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 king. 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 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 king 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.
Set in a richly detailed world inspired by ancient Arabia, We Hunt the Flame is a gripping debut of discovery, conquering fear, and taking identity into your own hands.
The time in my life where I really enjoyed YA fantasy was about oh…10 years ago. So why do I keep coming back to the genre when I know my tastes have evolved over the years? I really love that the YA publishing industry is putting out so many culturally diverse books now; even though people of color were obviously writing books 10 years ago, I don’t think they ever got as much attention as books by people of color are getting now. I’m trying my best to support these authors because their continued success means more diverse books in the future.
I’m especially excited about the surge in fantasy featuring brown-skinned protagonists. Let me be clear here, South Asian is not the same as Arab or Middle Eastern. I myself am South Asian, and this book in particular is based on ancient Arabia, but I still get excited about books that feature characters who in some way look like me, fantastical or not. Sometimes I really enjoy these series (When Dimple Met Rishi, City of Brass), sometimes they have a rough start but grow on me (Ember in the Ashes), and sometimes I’m just flat-out not impressed (The Star-Touched Queen). Still, I keep reading because it’s so nice to see people who look like me featured in these books, and representation is powerful. I wish I’d had books like these when I was younger, but I didn’t, so in some ways I suppose I’m reading them now to make up for it.
Now for the part you actually came here for, my thoughts on We Hunt the Flame. I’d seen a lot of buzz about this book, and almost everyone I know adores it so I was very excited. Personally, I didn’t love this book, but I will start out with the positives. This book isn’t afraid of alienating white readers, what with scatterings of Arabic throughout and deep ties to ancient Arabian mythology. I know people sometimes complain about the lack of glossary or too many “foreign” words but Faizal did a great job of giving you enough context to figure out what things mean. I also really liked the worldbuilding and the fantasy mythology of the Six Sisters, and how the landscape was a character of its own. The sands of Arawiya are ferocious, and the sinister shadows of the night also play a role in this story. My favorite characters were Yasmine, Benyamin, and Altair. I loved their banter, positive attitude, and even Altair’s inflated sense of self-importance.
So why didn’t I love this book? I didn’t particularly like either of the main characters. Nasir is so broody, and I know you’re supposed to feel bad for him, but he was a part of so many over-used YA fantasy tropes (brooding hero, tortured past, complicated relationship with evil parent) that I was more annoyed than sympathetic. Zafira was supposed to be headstrong and fearless, but I didn’t really see much personality once she left for the desert. She was a surprisingly passive character for someone who is very good with a bow and arrow and manages to feed her entire community despite many obstacles. I wish we’d gotten more of Yasmine in this book, because Zafira’s personality really shone when they were together. Female friendships are awesome (friendships in general are awesome!!) but they’re always upstaged by an unnecessary romance. Yeah, I said it, I thought the romance in this book was completely unnecessary and I remain unconvinced.
Another minor point, but I was annoyed with how most of the people described as beautiful were almost always the pale-skinned characters. I know this likely wasn’t intentional but I still found it annoying how often we were reminded of Zafira’s pale skin.
I also didn’t like the pacing of this book. The first part was exciting, but once Zafira left for her quest, it seemed like nothing was happening until the very end. The last third of the book was exciting and increased the scope of the series and worldbuilding, and was good enough for me to want to read the second book. Maybe it will pleasantly surprise me?
What were your thoughts on We Hunt the Flame?