by Hafsah Faizal
Publication: May 14, 2019
Series: Sands of Arawiya #1
To feed her village, Zafira dons the cloak of the Hunter to bring back meat from the Arz, a forest that ensnares all those who enter it…but Zafira returns time and again. Nasir is the Sultan’s assassin, loyally killing by request to gain his father’s approval and to protect those he pretends not to care about. Their paths cross when Zafira is tasked with retrieving a magical object to return magic to Arawiya and Nasir is sent to retrieve it from her.
It took a few false starts before I was finally able to get past the first chapter. The first part of the book is an introduction to our characters and Arawiya. Faizal creates a complex world, providing tales of its creation as well as background on events that led to the current state of the land. It was a bit slow for me but quickly picked up when Zafira sets out to retrieve the magical object. In the second half, as the search begins, the book becomes a lot more interesting; this is where all the fun starts. I couldn’t put it down after that.
Amidst the battle between good and evil is the struggle over one’s identity, and this was the more interesting fight (although not as exciting). Zafira and Nasir both have deeply held fears of not being accepted for who they are. Zafira pretends to be a hunter because she cares for her people but her good deeds wouldn’t be enough to save her if it is discovered that she is a woman. Nasir has not known love since his mother’s death. He’s been corrupted by his father who instilled in him that compassion and love are weaknesses that can only hurt him, so he hides them instead. Nassir isn’t necessarily looking for redemption as much as he is seeking acceptance for who he has become. In donning these disguises for the world, Zafira and Nasir also begin to lose parts of themselves. The journey to find the magical object presents both of them with the opportunity to choose who they want to be. Is it the disguise they wear or is it who lies underneath? Or, can they be both?
I enjoyed the novel. With the loss that many of the characters already faced, Faizal was able to beautifully capture the emotions associated with those losses into words, at times making it feel like she put my own feelings of loss onto the page as well. I found Zafira to be an admirable individual, and I really wanted to give Nasir a hug–someone, the man needs a hug! I look forward to We Free the Stars, which will be released on January 19, 2021. I’m crossing my fingers and hoping it will be similar to the last half of We Hunt the Flame.