ARC Review: We Hunt the Flame {Hafsah Faizal} - the one where the gang goes to an evil island

title: We Hunt the Flame
author: Hafsah Faizal
pages: 480
format: Paperback ARC
buy it: Amazon | B&N | Goodreads
rating: 5/5
Genre: Fantasy
Topics: Magic, Arab setting, Arab characters, Assassin
CW: Death, Violence 

5 lemons - I loved it


I've been following Hafsah since she was a blogger and artist. Long before she talked about this book. I always admired her hard work, talent, and kindness. At my very first Book Expo /BEA, she was going around handing out free mini notebooks like the one she sells. I still have mine. That air of kindness, sweetness, and empathy comes out in We Hunt the Flame --- but with a rawness and brutaliy that showcases the true depth of her imagination. It's a book that burrows into you and sticks. Characters that feel like friends. Magic that lingers. I own five copies, so that should tell you something.

What I loved 

  • Zafira. Strong, clever Zafira. She’s the only one who can navigate the Arz, and part of her journey is exploring the darkness that calls to her and deciding just how much she wants to open herself to it. She’s also adorably sheltered when it comes to sex and relationships, which emerges in some hysterical misunderstandings in conversation between her and the much more savvy Altair. Which then causes Nasir to feel awkward and want to hide, which is adorable.

  • Nasir. Such a broody cinnamon roll who could definitely kill you. I love that he doesn’t want to be an assassin but does it anyway, because of duty to his father and a faint hope that doing so might earn his father’s affection. So many bookish assassins are softened for the reader by refusing to kill, but Nasir actually has to contend with the fact that he has killed, is good at it. Does it make him a bad person? Is he more than his actions? He contends with these questions throughout the narrative in nuanced, thoughtful ways.

  • The way Hafsah describes Nasir’s experience of depression is so spot on, I could have cried.

  • The zumra! I love a good gang story. This motley crew includes Zafira and Nasir, as well as Nasir’s reluctant (on both sides) soldier Altair, the persnickety snobbish safin Benyamin, and the fierce warrior girl Kifah. Half of the fun of this story is their banter as they test each other’s limits and loyalties, poke fun at each other, push each other out of their comfort zones. The banter between Altair and everyone else is perfection, sharp and funny and providing just enough levity to balance out the broody weight of our POV characters.

  • This book made me hungry. Hafsah’s descriptions of food were so sharp, I could almost taste the sweets and spices.

  • The world, in general, is very immersive. Hafsah grounds her world in Arabic history and folklore while adding layers that are all her own, including multiple kinds of magic, five caliphates with distinctive cultures, and a hominid magical race, the safi, who are somewhat elfin in the Tolkien variety. It’s a lot to pack into one book, but it’s clear that Hafsah has a solid sense of all the layers, because it never felt confusing to me. It also rarely veered into info dumps. Hafsah trusts her reader. She uses a lot of unfamiliar terms based in Arabic and does not define them, but the context always makes the meaning clear. It’s a good move, because instead of being ripped out of the story with a definition, the meaning unfolds organically. It’s the same with her world; you don’t get explanations for everything right away, but you grow to know the world by degrees, until you feel like you’ve lived there forever. 

What didn't work as well 

  • It starts out a bit slowly. Hafsah spends some time setting up the world, letting the two POV characters introduce themselves and stumble into their main plot threads. Give it time!

  • It’s a complex plot. There was a point towards the end where, with five main characters, two POVs, and a very complex plot grounded in both the present circumstances and in-world mythology, I lost track of what was happening. But I soon found the thread again, and it finishes up with a bang.

My thoughts overall

An atmospheric, transporting tale of magic and vengeance, with characters I'd die for.

Will I read this author again? Every time
Will I continue this series? If it were out now, I'd have read it yesterday  

Note: I received this copy from the publisher for an honest review. The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions. 

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