We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal
30th Aug 2019
Zafira and Nasir are two sides of the same coin: both brave and cold, haunted by traumatic pasts and familial tragedy. But more than that, their existences are legendary in the great ancient kingdom Arawiya.
Zafira is the Hunter, her gender disguised under a cloak to protect her from the misogyny of the society she lives in; Nasir, the Amir al-Maut or Prince of Darkness, feared and brutal hashashin.
Yet when they are both called to hunt down the same treasure – the ancient and powerful magical artefact the jawarat – both Zafira and Nasir must face up to their true identities and, in doing so, uncover a web of lies and manipulation that covers the entire kingdom.
The debut novel from Hafsah Faizal, We Hunt the Flame is a gripping fantasy inspired by ancient Arabia. Richly interwoven with mythological references and vivid description of the seven caliphates of the fictional Arawiya, it takes familiar fantasy elements and tropes and gives them a fresh twist. I am by no means the target market for this book – neither YA or fantasy being among my preferred genres – and yet I found myself hooked from the start.
The narrative is told in alternating chapters, focusing on Zafira and Nasir in turn. Given that their lives and histories are so closely interwoven, this approach works well, allowing Faizal to introduce us to an expansive cast of characters and locations smoothly and largely without falling prey to pages of exposition (no mean feat with a backstory this elaborate).
Zafira and Nasir themselves are worthy protagonists, each well-rounded and full of internal conflicts that make them easy to empathise with. Each of them is flawed and yet they are easy to root for, and the slow-burning relationship that develops between them is paced well, with enough doubts and betrayals to keep my interest.
The supporting characters, too, are multi-dimensional and realistic, with compelling subplots woven elegantly through the main narrative. Hafsah Faizal has a particular knack for naturalistic dialogue, using it as an effective tool to further the plot and explain convoluted mythical and cultural allusions without feeling stiff or forced.
Hafsah Faizal has spoken openly about the importance of increasing the diversity of voices represented in YA literature. We Hunt the Flame achieves this aim admirably, with its subtle inclusion of Arab language and culture and diverse range of characters. The women and girls in the book are especially strong, and the subplot concerning Zafira’s ambivalence over the cloak that hides her gender a highlight.
We Hunt the Flame is the first in a duology, and as such there are some plot points left unresolved at the end of the book. Whether this is something you mind is a personal preference (I find it slightly frustrating!) but there’s enough closure to feel satisfactory – and it’s certainly made me want to read the sequel. Overall, We Hunt the Flame is a hugely promising debut, and a world I look forward to revisiting in future.