We Free the Stars (2021)

by Hafsah Faizal
ASIN/ISBN: 9780374311575
Publication: January 19, 2021
Series: Sands of Arawiya #2

**Contains spoilers for We Hunt the Flame.**

I ended my review of We Hunt the Flame “crossing my fingers and hoping” We Free the Stars would “be similar to the last half of We Hunt the Flame.” Did it come to pass? Was it similar? Or…was it better??

It took me two months to finally open and read the second book of the Sands of Arawiya because I couldn’t contain how excited I was to find out the fate of the zumra and all of Arawiya. I kept wanting to jump to the end and that would have ruined the whole experience of the book–all nearly 600 pages of it. Once I got started on it, I practiced safe book binging by reading the first half in one sitting and taking a 4am nap before reading the rest in a second sitting. Heh…

The weight of all that has been lost and left behind haunts the beginning of the novel, but now back in the “real world,” the bonds forged through the shared experiences in Sharr continue to anchor each member of the zumra. This is especially the case for Zafira who carries an additional burden no one else understands. While the bonds appear nearly unbreakable, it’s more complicated than it appears. No longer isolated from the rest of the world, multiple forces at home threaten their success and their connections with each other.

For the two who are on the cusp of sharing something more than camaraderie, endangering their lives for the future of their country was easier than risking their hearts. I was frustrated throughout the first half of the book because of them. It’s a slow burn, but not necessarily the good kind of burn–okay, it was good and then it went on little too long so I couldn’t contain my frustration anymore. I was also conflicted. As much as I enjoy romance, there was a lot of time spent on the will they or won’t they when I was ready to spring into a little more action and prepare for battle. I was ready to go to war for Altair.

I missed Altair…a lot. I missed him and his inappropriateness, his playfulness…just about everything. Altair seemed more like comic relief throughout We Hunt the Flame, but at the end of the first book and throughout the second, it’s clear how integral he is. He is the heart of the zumra, connecting everyone to each other. His capacity for love, whether it be for the people or for his prince, moved me. His absence was terribly present. He needs to give me a hug now.

While I had mixed feelings about different aspects of the book, I enjoyed it a lot. There isn’t much recapping so I had to quickly flip through the end of We Hunt the Flame to recall some of the specifics of the ending. Similar to it’s predecessor, it does drag a bit in the beginning but builds to an exciting climax–the book will have your emotions spiraling up and down. While the romance plays a larger role than expected, there is more than enough to satisfy the reader looking for action and adventure. I won’t lie though, I don’t think it compares to the ending we were given in We Hunt the Flame, which was magnificent. However, when it ended, I clutched it to my chest, sighing with relief and contentment. The anxiety of waiting to read it was over, and it was good, nearly as good as I hoped. I wanted to cradle it and roll around from all the happy feelings it brought me. (I’m smiling just thinking about it right now…squee)

Overall, We Free the Stars is an excellent follow-up to We Hunt the Flame. It is a tome of a book so be ready to stay up all night reading it–or possibly taking a nap in between–because it’ll be difficult to stop turning the pages. Sands of Arawiya is easily one of the best duologies I’ve read.

We Hunt the Flame (2019)

by Hafsah Faizal
ASIN/ISBN: 9780374311544
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.