Review: We Hunt the Flame (Sands of Arawiya #1) by Hafsah Faizal


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.

Set in a richly detailed world inspired by ancient Arabia, We Hunt the Flame is a gripping debut of discovery, conquering fear, and taking identity into your own hands.


I thought of various ways to preface this review; I was even tempted to embroider, to sugarcoat, to essentially reinvent, but now it seems, in the interests of candidness, most expedient to come to the point: I really did not like this book. And none is more stricken by this than me.

The spell We Hunt the Flame tries to cast does not land. My memory of the story vanished as quickly as a breath blown over cold glass. My indifference was such a palpable thing that my turning the last page was accompanied by a sensation of weightlessness, as though a bitter burden had fallen away. I don’t know what I’d expected from this experience exactly, but the world certainly hadn’t been kicked out of its orbit.

So, what is this book about?

Sometimes people were reckless in their desperation—and no one was more desperate than the Hunter.

The Caliphate of Demenhur has lived on the edge of starvation ever since the cursed forests of the Arz emerged like a cold mist rising from the earth, winding itself about the trees, and snow mounded up where sand once held the day’s heat. And only one person walks through the darkness of the Arz as if it were a pool to bathe in: The Hunter.

17-year-old Zafira bint Iskandar is the Hunter, and in order to save her people, she has to dwell in their most harrowing fears. Forced to masquerade as a man because of the wrong-headed people in Demenhur to whom she would only ever be a woman, Zafira braves the soft, boiling darkness every day, fear grating along her ribs, tramped only by an infallible instinct to defend the weak…until the darkness parts one day, and a silver-cloaked witch comes forth, portending Arawiya’s doom lest Zafira treks to retrieve an ancient book known as the Jawarat—a lost artifact that will shore up the threatening tide of darkness and restore magic to Arawiya.

But while Zafira is grappling to bear up the weight of this daunting quest, Nasir Ghameq—a boy, innocent in youth, in whom the seed of his father’s hatred found fertile ground—is sent to hunt her. The crown prince of Arawiya, known as “the prince of Death”, has a reputation of doling out death at his father’s behest, leaving paths of gore in his wake. But when their paths collide, realization strikes: Nasir and Zafira, alongside some uneager allies whom they happen upon on their hunt, will have to pour their strengths into keeping a much more perilous darkness at bay.

The bones of the premise are nothing new. We Hunt the Flame does very little to differentiate itself from the dozens of other YA fantasy novels that have appeared recently, except that it shifts the center away from western folklore, but not even that saves this novel from being a high concept, disappointingly executed.

The full promise of We Hunt the Flame is swallowed by an overreliance on clichés and gratuitous plot machinery. Once the main arc disengages fully from the shadows, it turns out to be fairly standard for a fantasy novel: A long-lost artifact to retrieve. The threat of dark magic hanging over everything like a shawl. Evil sources scheming. Enemies turning reluctant allies. Everyone is, of course, burdened by a tragic backstory.

The bare-boned plot of We Hunt the Flame meanders, listless and lukewarm, towards a conclusion that doesn’t pack as much suspense as it could. Each page felt the length of a night and the boredom of it all was so profound it made me want to scratch my eyes out. Zafira’s quest is utterly non-earthshaking, and the novel often shies away from the full impact of the magical stakes, and as a result, some of the grander moments were robbed of the barest scrapings of gravitas. It is a sign, I think, of how addled I was with tedium and indifference, that it took me some time to realize that I was supposed to stagger, look bewildered, or react somehow to some of the plot twists and revelations, but I was as blank in my unconcern as empty shells.

Not only does the plot come late, but it also felt like the story was making the deliberate decision not to raise too many questions about the worldbuilding in order to focus, instead, on the character arcs which weren’t even that gripping to begin with. There’s nothing too disagreeable about the writing either, but the pacing and the density of the prose sometimes don’t balance well with the narrative. This was all bad enough but what had lowered my spirit still further is the fact that I picked up this book expecting a story grounded in a stellar Arabian setup, unfortunately, We Hunt the Flame doesn’t linger there long—too much of the world is glossed over, or left naggingly blank. As for the characters of We Hunt the Flame, they are a collection of stereotypes that we oftentimes see in YA books. Most of the characters are only special to the extent they serve a purpose, and once that purpose is met, they are no longer needed. I would have been more charitable if the novel wielded some wit or clever bits of banter that would serve as a vivid splash on an otherwise dull palette, instead the exchanges felt forced and utterly tepid.

I really wanted to love this book, but I guess there are some things you just never really get over. Like your first broken heart. Or when Netflix canceled ODAAT. Or when one of your most anticipated releases of 2019 doesn’t live up to your expectations.

8 thoughts on “Review: We Hunt the Flame (Sands of Arawiya #1) by Hafsah Faizal

  1. I was quite looking forward to this book, but I think now I’m gonna have to go in with a little more trepidation than I originally had. This is a great review!!


  2. I am so surprised by a negative review of this book! I don’t think I have heard a less-than-glowing peep about We Hunt the Flame, so I’m glad you wrote this post — and so beautifully, I have to add! I don’t read much YA fantasy, so I probably won’t be picking this one up, but I was really pumped for an Arabic fantasy novel!


  3. I’ve read nothing but good things about this book, so it was super interesting to read a negative review. I was planning on buying this book, but now I’ll just wait until my library gets a copy! Great review!


  4. phew! i thought it was just me! i’m 25% into this book and it’s just not clicking with me, sadly. obviously there’s still time to improve–and i really, really am hanging onto hope, especially as i’ve followed hafsah and her blog for years–but from your review it sounds like it might be better to lower my expectations. thanks for the great review!


  5. So interested to hear your review! I’ve been hearing about this book as “the new fantasy everyone MUST read” and it’s good to hear an opinion from someone who’s read it. Thanks for your review!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s