People lived because she killed.
People died because he lived.
Zafira is the Hunter, disguising herself as a man when she braves the cursed forest of the Arz to feed her people. Nasir is the Prince of Death, assassinating those foolish enough to defy his autocratic father, the king. If Zafira was exposed as a girl, all of her achievements would be rejected; if Nasir displayed his compassion, his father would punish him in the most brutal of ways.
Both are legends in the kingdom of Arawiya—but neither wants to be.
War is brewing, and the Arz sweeps closer with each passing day, engulfing the land in shadow. When Zafira embarks on a quest to uncover a lost artifact that can restore magic to her suffering world and stop the Arz, Nasir is sent by the king on a similar mission: retrieve the artifact and kill the Hunter. But an ancient evil stirs as their journey unfolds—and the prize they seek may pose a threat greater than either can imagine.
Picture me heaving a deep sigh. That’s me right now, having finished reading We Hunt the Flame and now having to review it. Despite its promises to be a sweeping YA fantasy and a compelling story about two very different characters that fall into the same journey and destiny despite being enemies, I didn’t feel that the book delivered. Unfortunately the ideas of We Hunt the Flame were wonderful and riveting, but its execution was lacking. And I’m incredibly disappointed, because I so wanted to love this book. The truth is, however, I just simply did not.
Characters that didn’t quite hit the mark
We Hunt the Flame is told in two alternating narratives. The first follows Zafira, a girl who disguises herself as a man and ventures into the cursed and dark forest of Arz to feed her people. Zafira is known as the Hunter; an enigma and legend among her people, with a reputation that far precedes her. Character-wise, I liked Zafira enough – she had a bite as a protagonist, was sharp and astute, had clear motivations, and there were times where I genuinely enjoyed her dialogue. However, part-way through the book, Zafira’s character development later becomes entangled with developments in the plot, thus sidelining her character development (and what made her interesting) in favour of showing why Zafira was so pivotal to the story. Although a large proportion of the story is dedicated to developing the characters (and I’ll talk about pacing later), Zafira’s character falls a little flat after several revelations, and becomes more of a machination for the development of the story, rather than an interesting and realised character that led the story.
The second narrative follows Nasir, also known as the Prince of Death, the prince of the sultan and an assassin that does the sultan’s dirty work by killing his opponents. Initially, I thought Nasir could be interesting – in the beginning of the book, Nasir seems to experience immense internal conflict for the work that he does, but his motivations of why despite the small voice telling him that his actions are wicked and evil were a mystery and I thought that was interesting. Unfortunately, as the story progresses, Nasir’s characterisation becomes a culmination of tropes and clichés – avoidant in personality, broody, mysterious, tortured, and hates everyone. And because his characterisation is so familiar, I found it difficult to be invested in his character because Nasir was predictable and bland.
What surprised me (which is neither a good or bad thing) was that We Hunt the Flame is a story about Zafira and Nasir, indeed, but both are joined by several others on their journey to find a mysterious and powerful artefact called the Jawarat. In other words: We Hunt the Flame is a quest novel and involves a rag-tag unlikely group of enemies-that-become-friends. I love quest stories and I love stories with a bigger cast because group dynamics are always fun to read, but unfortunately the only character that I found interesting was Altair, the sultan’s general and the bane of Nasir’s existence for all his lewd jokes and cockiness.
Zafira, Nasir, and Altair are later joined by Benyamin and Kifah – two characters that had the potential to be interesting, but too lacked development. Despite the fact that they have a decent presence in the story, they failed to engage me with their storylines, their motivations, and their characterisations. To be frank, I don’t think I’ll remember Benyamin and Kifah long after I have read this book – in fact, I think they could have been cut from the story and the story would not have changed much at all.
Incohesive storytelling and pacing issues
My biggest issue with We Hunt the Flame was its incohesive storytelling. At first, I thought parts of the beginning (though slow) were interesting and engaging. I liked that Faizal took time to explore Zafira’s frustrations of having to masquerade as a man, even though she’s a woman, because of the kingdom’s sexist institutions that prohibit or reject woman in positions of leadership and status. Rather, women were to be wives, had to be obedient, and dutiful to the men in their families. I really enjoyed Faizal’s exploration of patriarchy in the kingdom of Arawiya, and the consequences for Zafira if she revealed herself to be a woman.
However, when Zafira’s quest to find the Jawarat begins, the worldbuilding that Faizal had taken time to craft and develop in Part I just… drops off. Though the whole book doesn’t have to examine sexism and patriarchy, the sudden change of tone and the narrative was jarring. For what began as an interesting YA fantasy that explores and scrutinises themes that subsequently developed the world, history, and motivations of the characters and would have set itself apart from other stories, We Hunt the Flame later falls back on a generic plot and narrative that doesn’t quite do enough to set itself apart from other stories.
The plot was unfortunately messy and struggled to balance between character development and plot development. In retrospect, it felt like a significant portion of We Hunt the Flame was dedicated to developing its characters – Nasir’s past and childhood, and why he’s wicked and cold, in particular — with a poor pay-off that didn’t make me feel more invested or interested in the characters. There wasn’t, unfortunately, enough for me to feel invested in their quest. Specifically, the significance of their quest and the consequences of their failure are vital details in a good quest storyline, but in this book, such details were vague and not enough attention was given to the stakes.
The quest itself feels lukewarm and lacked momentum – I’d find myself picking this book up, determined to read more than a few chapters, only to put it down shortly after because I just did not feel invested – and although some of the revelations should have made me feel shock or surprise or something, the tedious pacing sucked all the joy and tension from the twists. Thus, if you find yourself invested in the characters early in the book, you may love We Hunt the Flame. However, if you struggle to engage with them even though you are well into the book – then you and I might be on the same boat.
Another issue with We Hunt the Flame was its pacing. I usually don’t mind books that have a slower pace, particularly in fantasy where details and nuance enhance worldbuilding and make the story more immersive. However, in the last fifty or so pages (out of a 460-ish paged book), after a long and dry spell of the characters trekking across the desert, learning things about themselves and the nature of the quest (which didn’t evoke any sort of response from me), bickering, and Zafira and Nasir growing closer together (though the reason why they even bond and are attracted to each other still eludes me), the plot just… suddenly, out of nowhere, develops. The suddenness was confusing and such a harsh change of focus and pace made me feel whip-lashed by the final chapters of the book. The conclusion didn’t feel hard-won and deserved – just a hasty wrap-up.
The relationships were dull and… made no sense
Maybe someone can explain it to me in good faith, because I genuinely just… did not understand the relationships in this book, except for one. Let’s start with the exception first: I really enjoyed the sisterly friendship between Zafira and Yasmine, perhaps the only authentic and genuine-feeling relationship in the book. I loved the dynamic between the two, the bond and deep connection that they shared was convincing, lovely, and will remind you of your oldest friends. I think if Yasmine had accompanied Zafira on her journey (for whatever reason), the book may have been more interesting — but that’s not the book’s fault and I’m not going to criticise a book for what it wasn’t.
The other relationships, however, left much to be desired. In particular, I just did not understand the romance between Zafira and Nasir, and I don’t think I ever will, unless there’s an amazing relationship arc in the second book. Reading the relationship between Zafira and Nasir felt like their relationship was written purely to fit and have the ‘enemies-to-lovers’ trope; like the trope wrote the relationship. Although Zafira and Nasir begin as enemies, a dynamic that makes sense considering their conflicts of interest, they eventually warm up to and let their guards down around each other. And then they just… start developing feelings for each other, which, in the context of what happens earlier in the book, was confusing. There was no substance, not enough tension leading up to the climax of their attraction and romantic feelings, and just… not enough to convince me that the relationship was worth rooting for.
MY CONCLUSION: NOT FOR ME, BUT MAYBE FOR YOU
Ultimately, We Hunt the Flame didn’t work for me. There was just not quite enough of everything, and everything was a little too shallow, more than I could overlook and simply enjoy. Though We Hunt the Flame isn’t for me, other readers may enjoy this book, particularly those who enjoy broody and angsty characters and the Ancient-Arabian setting.
Is this book for you?
Premise in a sentence: The Hunter and the Prince of Death journey to a mysterious island to retrieve a lost and magical book.
Perfect for: readers who want to read a book in a Arabic setting; want to read a comfortable YA fantasy; readers who love angsty and broody characters
Think twice if: you’re looking for a fast-paced YA fantasy; you’re not a fan of angsty characters; you want a YA fantasy with a bit more depth
Genre: young adult, fantasy
Trigger/content warning: death of parent, chronically ill loved one, death of loved one, murder, death, multiple blood mentions, parental abuse and neglect, gore
I’m disappointed that this book didn’t work for me. Trust me when I say this: I really, desperately wanted to love it. But I just couldn’t, and for that, I am sad. I’d love to read Faizal’s other work in the future because her writing is lovely and verges on poetic, but I think Sands of Arawiya may just not be for me.
- Have you read We Hunt the Flame? What did you think?
- Do you have any other recommendations of YA fantasy?