What can I say about We Hunt the Flame? I didn’t hate this book, but I do feel like it majorly let me down. I was so excited for an OwnVoices novel from a background that is rarely represented in mainstream fiction, with tropes I love, like a girl disguised as a boy, or a tortured soul who wants to do better. Unfortunately, Hafsah Faizal’s combination of them was not as riveting as it could have been—honestly, it wasn’t awful, but it was pretty forgettable.
Plot summary for those who haven’t heard about it yet: Zafira lives in a poor town in the caliphate of Demenhue. To get food for her people, she regularly goes hunting in the Arz, an evil forest that nobody else can manage to go into and come out alive. And because misogyny runs rampant in her caliphate, she does this disguised as a boy, known to others only as the Hunter.
Nasir, the son of the sultan, lives a life filled with
darkness, acting against his will as his father’s personal assassin, taking out
political enemies across the kingdom.
When a mysterious woman known only as the Silver Witch
recruits Zafira to go on a quest to the haunted island Sharr, to retrieve a
book said to contain the secrets to restoring magic to the kingdom, Nasir is tasked
with following her and then killing her once she retrieves the book
successfully. Of course, this is easier said than done; Zafira and Nasir have
an undeniable connection, and as they travel across Sharr, secrets begin to
emerge that challenge the entire purpose of their quest.
Now, there were several things I did genuinely enjoy about this book. Zafira was, in a lot of ways, the type of heroine I like to root for. She struggles to make her way in a man’s world, never questioning her capability, but always questioning whether she can afford to be honest about her identity. She’s tough and majorly emotionally closed-off as a result of childhood trauma, but she genuinely tries to do well by those who have her loyalty. And Nasir…oh boy, do I love Nasir. He’s the sort of emotionally damaged bad boy that I love to read about. Seeing him grapple with emotions, including his feelings for Zafira and his qualms about carrying out his father’s will, was the sort of content I live for. Just look at this moment where he talks about Zafira:
“He remembered…the way she met his eyes as no one but Altair did, dismantling him as no one did. Fearlessly. Effortlessly. As if, perhaps, beneath every death and monstrous act he had committed, he was only flesh and bone—a human, nothing more. He hadn’t been seen as a human in years.”
How can you not love that??
And honestly, my favorite part of the book was Altair. The sultan’s
general, and Nasir’s companion on the quest, a sarcastic little shit who is
gorgeous and knows it, who can’t shoot straight but can fight like nobody’s
business, and who would never admit he cares about someone but nevertheless stands
by Nasir. He’s glib and charming and provides some of the only actual humor in
the story, and I sincerely hope there’s more of him in the sequel (assuming I
actually read the sequel, that is).
Unfortunately…there’s also a lot I didn’t like, most of which has to do with the fact that this book was just BORING. There was no sense of urgency to anything in the plot, so it didn’t feel very exciting, but also wasn’t the sort of lush description that I could actually lose myself in. The action meandered randomly, and they spent SO MUCH TIME just walking around, ostensibly searching for the book, but somehow not getting any closer to it, even though Zafira is supposed to know exactly how to find it. At the end, when some important revelations were made, it felt like everyone figured everything out all at once, in a way that was way too cheesy to feel legit. The monsters that the team had to fight were interesting the first time but became redundant each subsequent time they showed up. Zafira’s anxieties made her a convincing character, sure, but they were brought up frequently in highly redundant terms that made them way less important-feeling. The romance between Zafira and Nasir was a slow burn that just suddenly resulted in them making out at a very important moment when they don’t have time to do so. The setting could have been so richly developed, but it felt like a paper backdrop to the story, without any real depth. So many promising elements that just fell flat in the execution.
And don’t even get me started on the side characters. Beyond Zafira, Nasir, and Altair, all the characters in the book felt incredibly flat and poorly developed. Really, they only existed to fulfill a specific function: this one to be the bad guy, this one to make a sacrifice (which didn’t even feel sad because I wasn’t attached to said character at all), and so on. They felt less like real people and more like awkward props to ensure that the main characters didn’t just exist in a vacuum. I wanted to care about them, but seriously, I just couldn’t.
In short, We Hunt the Flame is a mediocre book that I probably wouldn’t dissuade anyone from reading, but also probably wouldn’t recommend. When a book of this length, which would normally take me a few days (maybe 5ish), instead takes upwards of a week, that’s a pretty good indicator that it’s not the most riveting material. Give it a shot if you want, especially if you’re into books from diverse backgrounds, or if you like characters who are pretty dang dark, but…I’m going to give it a pass. Jury is still out on whether I’ll read the sequel whenever it comes out.
Final rating: 3 stars, but definitely on the low side of that rating.