You’ll probably guess that I have a soft spot for middle-eastern inspired stories and fantasy adventures set in desert-based second worlds. My love began with Disney’s Aladdin and grew to encompass video games like The Prince of Persia and the first Assassin’s Creed, and then books like The Arabian Nights, Rebel of the Sands, The City of Brass to name a few, and now my most eagerly awaited young adult fantasy book in years. Written by a Muslim author, We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal ticks ALL of my boxes: YA fantasy, a fierce heroine who disguises herself as a man, a brooding dark prince, a world inspired by ancient Arabia, a dangerous and mysterious quest, a rag-tag group of friends forced to work together, sword fights and mythical creatures, an enemies-to-lovers subplot, and a drop-dead gorgeous book cover. Did it meet my high expectations? You bet!
Honestly, We Hunt the Flame is my new favourite YA fantasy OF ALL TIME.
We Hunt the Flame is a third-person dual-narrative which follows the story of the two central main characters and love interests. Zafira is the Hunter, a woman who disguises herself as a man to hunt in the dark growing forest, the Arz, in order to feed her starving people. Because her particular caliphate are a bit backwards when it comes to the accomplishments of women, Zafira is forced to don a mask as a legend in her own right, otherwise her good deeds would go ignored. Only she can brave the Arz and come out of it intact. During one such hunt, she receives a mysterious invitation to join a hunt for a legendary item that could bring magic back to the dying lands of Arawiya and ensure her people wouldn’t starve again. Naturally, she doesn’t turn down a challenge!
Also joining the hunt is Nasir, the Prince of Death, who has been ordered by his father, the Sultan, to recover this legendary item and kill the Hunter. Like the Hunter, Nasir is legendary figure feared across the land as an accomplished assassin. And so begins a cat-and-mouse adventure as Nasir stalks Zafira across the dangerous island of Sharr, a desert-come-prison where deadly mythical creatures are made real. It doesn’t take long for Zafira and Nasir to come head-to-head, but soon they, and others they come across on their adventure, are forced to work together in order to survive the harsh environment of Sharr and achieve what they both want. But can they find the legendary item needed to bring back magic without stabbing each other in the back or… falling in love?
We Hunt the Flame does start off a little slow as Hafsah Faizal sets the scene, introduces the world and characters, and gets things moving. But once Zafira and Nasir reach the island of Sharr, everything kicks off and the pace ramps up into a whirlwind where it’s one crisis after another. There are battles, revelations, deadly twists and turns, and one hell of an explosive ending which does frustratingly end on a cliff hanger, so you’ll be desperate for more! I absolutely loved the banter and character dynamics between the Zumra, the group of adventurers and heroes thrown together and forced to trust each other. Each had their own backstory to explore and could stand on their own, though clearly everyone’s favourite character is the quick-witted Altair who never fails to lighten the mood with a quip or two. The romance between the Hunter and the Prince of Death builds up slowly and realistically to me, with room to grow.
Though We Hunt the Flame does use a lot of similar YA fantasy tropes you may have read before, I think the world Hafsah Faizal has built is interesting and unique enough to make it stand out. I also loved how the author wove Arabic words into the prose seamlessly. There were words that I knew from my own reading/research, and there were others that just fit in so perfectly, it was easy enough for me to understand them in context. For those who might struggle, there is a glossary on the We Hunt the Flame website, although my only criticism is that a printed list should have been included within the book as well. Hopefully this will be added into later editions. It’s something that I found useful in similar books like The City of Brass.
If you love exciting adventure, enemies-to-lovers romance, and a bit of fantasy banter between pals, then We Hunt the Flame is for you! I certainly can’t wait to read what happens next and explore more of the world.