Review Blog

May 28 2019

We hunt the flame by Hafsah Faizal

cover image

Farrar Straus Giroux, 2019. ISBN: 9780374313647
(Age: 16+) Highly recommended. Fantasy.
Set in a fantasy world reminiscent of ancient Arabia, We hunt the flame draws together two strong characters: Zafira, the hunter, a woman dressed as a man, venturing into the dark Arz forest to hunt animals to provide food for her people, and Nasir, the dark prince, a feared hashashin assassin, who kills men on the orders of his father the Sultan of Arawiya. "People lived because she killed" and "people died because he lived".
Arawaya is a kingdom of five caliphates, under the rule of the Sultan Ghameq, a ruler who has succumbed to evil, and who in his continual quest for greater power is prepared to kill his own people. The whole land has been cursed by the loss of the magic that formerly protected it. Demenhur, Zafira's homeland, has become blanketed in cold and snow, the people are starving, and the darkness of the Arz forest is gradually encroaching further onto the land. Only Zafira has been able to venture into the forest in her hunt for prey and been able to return alive and unharmed. An encounter with the Silver Witch challenges her to go further into the forest and then across to the island of Sharr to retrieve the lost power of magic. Unknown to her, the Dark Prince, the assassin, has also been sent on the same quest to gain the power for his father.
Faisal has created an amazing fantasy world, with a Middle Eastern flavour. The men wear turbans or keffiyeh and thobes; and Zafira shields her identity with a hooded cloak. In Demenhur the caliph refuses to allow the women any rights or recognise their capabilities, whilst in neighbouring Zaram there were female warriors. Each of the caliphates is different, just as the countries of the Middle East are different. The current situation in Syria has its reflection in the story of the ruthless Sultan Gharmeq and his plans to overcome his subjects with a deadly poison gas, with small children among his victims.
Faizal's writing style is rich and poetic and includes many Arabic words, a joy for Arabic speakers or Arabic language learners. There is no need for a glossary though as words reveal their meanings in context and the reader gradually becomes familiar with a basic vocabulary.
The author's photograph is shown on the back cover. An American Muslim, she appears in her black niqab, clothing she is proud to wear. It is wonderful that she has been able to bring the world of Arabic culture and history that she knows so well to this gripping story of mystery, adventure and romance, made so much more interesting with its Arabian flavour.
While the story twists to a dramatic ending, there are clearly threads that can be picked up again, and no doubt there will be a sequel. Readers of We hunt the flame will be eagerly awaiting the next book.
Helen Eddy

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