In her stunning debut of magic and motives, Hafsah Faizal composes a striking tale with We Hunt the Flame about carving your own path and stoking the embers of hope in a desolate realm.
Masquerading as a man known only as the Hunter, Zafira provides for her people, staving their hunger and sustaining them throughout their perpetual winter. As the sole survivor to ever navigate and hunt in the Arz—a wicked and ever-growing forest notorious for maddening those who dare enter—Zafira makes a name for herself in a land she’d otherwise be unable to. When word spreads of the Hunter’s knack for the Arz, Zafira is presented with a quest to journey to the malevolent island of Sharr and find the lost Jawarat, a book that will restore the kingdom of Arawiya to its former glory.
As if the island’s sinister forces aren’t dire enough, Zafira must contend with the infamous Prince of Death, the son of the sultan with enough blood on his hands to water the sands of Arawiya. With the Arz devouring the land, corrupt like its politics, Zafira races to the find the Jawarat before Arawiya succumbs to evils much greater than even the Arz.
We Hunt the Flame simply enthralls, sparking intrigue in the captivating world of Arawiya and the tribulations of both Zafira and Nasir. Told from the dual perspectives of both characters, Faizal highlights the inner turmoil encumbering them, demonstrating how circumstance shaped their convictions, while beautifully illustrating their growth as they dismantle the exceptions thrust upon them. And therein lies Faizal’s greatest strength; she excels at crafting characters that elevate the story with their depth and complexity. A stark dichotomy encompasses Nasir’s character, with his indifference warring with his humanity. His brutality and sheer disregard for human life initially vilified him to me, and I found him largely unlikable. Yet, by the end of the novel, Nasir became one of my favorite characters; Faizal masterfully develops him in such a realistic and human manner that douses any disliking towards him.
That same richness and intricacy is imbued to the rest of the characters as well: the divide between Zafira and the Hunter persona behind which she hides; the delicate balance between one’s capacity for good and evil; and the selflessness uncharacteristic of the vain and self-centered. I simply loved this multifaceted nature to the characters and how real it made them seem.
Just like the magic entwined within this tale, Faizal parallels that same enchantment with her beatific storytelling, weaving words exquisitely with a lyrical flourish. Not to mention, she uniquely incorporates bits of the Arabic language, a really fascinating touch that only bolsters the overall experience and immersion in the story. My only misgiving revolves around the pacing. The first quarter or so of the book felt rather slow, and while it more than atones for this in later chapters, I admit I struggled a bit to get into it at the start. Given We Hunt the Flame’s elaborate world, I can understand why Faizal chose to compose it this way, allowing readers a concise understanding of the characters’ circumstances and the world they inhabit. But for me, I would’ve liked to dive into the action just a bit quicker. However, amidst all the marvels this book harbors, the initial pacing is only a minor qualm, for the thrilling conclusion crackles with suspense.
While Faizal’s characters hunt the flame, I’ll anxiously be hunting for the sequel.