Hafsah Faizal’s debut and New York Times bestseller We Hunt The Flame was one of my favorite fantasy novels of 2019. It was a lush and magical page-turner with instantly likeable characters, an exciting plot, and an enemy to friends slow-burn romance that I was desperate to read more of.
We Free The Stars became an extremely anticipated sequel and not just because the way the first book ended. I loved the Zumra—what the group calls themselves in the first book—and needed to know how the events of the first book would affect their world. I also needed to know if Zafira and Nasir would allow themselves happiness and admit their feelings for each other. The few questions that were answered at the end of the first book were replaced by a great deal of others. I had high hopes for the sequel, I wanted to see more of Arawiya even though I knew it was only a duology, and my time with Zafira, Nasir, Altair and Kifah was short.
Overall, the book doesn’t disappoint—it’s exciting, with excellent worldbuilding and the same characters we got to know and love. At the end of the first book, the Zumra escaped Sharr with a clear way of how to restore magic to Arawiya. But as the Lion captured one of their own and found a way off his prison island, their time was running out to do so before he made a move.
As the stakes expand we get to see the crew in their element, fighting and taking a stand against the Lion and darkness in Arawiya. Zafira’s tether to the magical Jawarat made her internal struggle to fight against its evil demands all the more interesting to read. In the first book, her pure heart guided her through the darkness on Sharr, but now is put to the test as her more dark impulses are brought to light by the book’s connection.
I also loved Nasir’s transformation. When we first met him in We Hunt The Flame, he was a jaded assassin, angry with his father’s orders, and weighed by guilt for following them. But with a path forward and a group of people who care about him—who he cares about in return—he became even more delightful to follow along. I loved his relationship with Altair—though his newly discovered half-brother was missing for most of the book— and how it changed him. And I loved how he cared about Zafira from afar. Their relationship was definitely one of the better parts of the book.
The amount of strong women in the book who push against the expectations of the men in their lives and the structures set on them was refreshing to read as well. I loved every character, but Hafsah’s female protagonists and secondary characters were a joy to read. I loved Kifah, Lana and Yasmine and the friendships and relationships that flourished apart from the men in the story.
Though it took some time to get too, Hafsah doesn’t pull her punches on the action. The story trudges along and then blasts ahead at full speed, taking off with little time to catch your breath. The book is merciless in its plot turns and character reveals, making us sympathetic for someone one moment to vilifying them in the next. It’s as if the author wanted to squeeze two more books into this one.
Though the book takes place soon after the events of the first book, I think the sequel could have benefitted from a summary. I was a bit lost in the first few pages as I tried to remember what happened and I even had to go back and skim the first book, which took a bit of time as it’s over 450 pages. And this book is almost 600 pages! I’m usually overjoyed at large books, especially when I really enjoyed the first in the series. But there were bits of the beginning that slogged, especially after the excitement of the first book. I kept waiting for things to start—though when they did, almost 60% into the book, I was grateful for the momentum. It did make me think that maybe the book would have been better if it was split into two? Or maybe I was just reading too slowly. Either way, my enjoyment did suffer a bit at how long it took me to read just half. I was excited to get to the characters again when I started but was a bit disappointed when I wasn’t falling into it as fast as the first book.
Once the book picks up, and we near a turning point, I feel like there’s a payoff. I won’t spoil anything because that would be rude but there’s nothing sweeter in this series than a protective Nasir. His 360 from angry princeling to caring brother and friend (because Nasir would never be so forward to call himself anything else toward Zafira) is fun to read. I just wish we got more of it! And Altair deserves a few books of his own—I would have loved to read about his machinations as spymaster before the events of We Hunt the Flame. In fact, I think we definitely deserve more in this series. But I’m content to imaginings for now.
I can’t speak personally to the representation in the book but I really loved the Arabic inspiration and inspired setting. From the sooqs in the Sultan’s keep to the date trees and sand dunes, I loved reading a fantasy set away from Western inspired countries. It made the worldbuilding richer too.
While it wasn’t as quick of a read as I expected, We Free The Stars was a worthy follow up and satisfying sequel. I’m sad to be finished with the series but I’m all the more aware of how talented Hafsah is and cannot wait for her future novels.