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Review: We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal

Review: We Hunt the Flame by 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 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.’

There’s a lot about We Hunt the Flame that I enjoyed, primarily in the last third of the novel, but I feel that that in itself is the main issue that I found with it: the narrative takes an awfully long time to get going anywhere. In-fact, the characters that the reader knows are going to have to meet don’t actually meet until nearly two hundred pages (out of almost five hundred) into the story. For me, this seemed far too long to wait, and while I was enjoying elements of Zafira and Nasir’s stories, that what felt as if it should be the core of the narrative didn’t take off for so long almost had me putting the book down several times. While this may have been done to ensure that the reader is equally invested in the stories of the characters while they are apart and to prevent the idea of defining who they are only as a pair (which is something I would not have liked, even if their path is a little obvious from the outset), I nevertheless found it rather frustrating and I wish I hadn’t, as it tainted my reading of the novel.

It isn’t often that I say this, but I think in this instance it was the male characters that I grew to feel for more than the women. This isn’t to say that I didn’t like Zafira, but there is something about her portrayal that I couldn’t quite get comfortable with. There’s a moment when she’s said to be afraid of being a woman, and despite knowing that, contextually, her fear of being discovered to be female is perfectly valid, the phrasing of that particular line made me flinch and I’m afraid it coloured my view of the character. I know that there are numerous ways in which the line could be interpreted, but I wish it did not also imply that she’s ashamed of her gender. She has taken on a more male role, as we often see girls doing in YA fiction at the moment, and, in the circumstances, it makes perfect sense, but I was hoping for more validation of her strength as a woman and not as a woman pretending to be a man.

That I found Nasir and Altair’s roles slightly more interesting is probably to do with their stronger ties to the magical elements of the story, which I won’t go into detail about, as I don’t wish to reveal a lot of spoilers for those who won’t have read the book since its release in the US. Nasir’s behaviour has much to do with what he has become, at once unashamed and intent on his goal, while guilt-ridden and dark with regret for what he has allowed himself to do (not that he is presented with any choice). Altair is a good foil for him, his irreverent humour sometimes charming and at others completely ridiculous, and I enjoyed some of their exchanges the most (and a moment when Zafira inadvertently takes on his tones). The cast as a whole seem at their best when they are together, while Zafira and Nasir are often at their most compelling during their quieter exchanges.

We Hunt the Flame is an immersive read and one for which I particularly loved the mythology and magic’s place in the story, but the pacing is something that I feel needs stressing as something to persevere with, as a lot of its most engaging story is in the second half of the novel. In the UK, We Hunt the Flame will be on Shelves from August 8th! Thank you to My Kinda Book and Pan Macmillan for the review copy!