Arawiya is a kingdom without magic. Or, at least it is now.
This is the land of Arawiya at the start of Hafsah Faizal’s debut novel, We Hunt the Flame. Once, it was under the benevolent reign of the Six Sisters of Old, wise and powerful women who ruled for centuries and brought peace and prosperity to the kingdom. Until the day they disappeared, taking all magic with them. Now, the caliphates suffer from starvation and natural disasters. And every day the Arz, the great dark forest that drives even the strongest men mad, crawls ever closer…
Zafira bint Iskandar is the Hunter. Her home, Demenhur, is a land of snow and ice, and food is scarce. She’s the only one able to enter the fearsome Arz and make her way back unscathed, and her hunting is the only thing saving her village from starvation. Unfortunately, she can’t claim credit for any of it. Zafira lives under a caliph who vilifies women, and she has to keep her identity a secret or risk his wrath. Then she’s approached by a mysterious woman who asks her to do an impossible thing: journey to the island of Sharr and bring back the lost Jawarat. With that ancient book, magic can be restored.
Nasir Ghameq is the Prince of Death. His mother was the beloved sultana, an immortal ruler who brought stability to the kingdom after the Sisters disappeared. However, the sultana proved not to be as immortal as most thought. After her untimely death, Nasir’s father grew cruel and cold, sending Nasir out as his personal assassin to enforce his brutal reign. Nasir’s next task is to travel to Sharr, along with his personal nemesis, General Altair al-Badawi, to kill the Hunter and bring the Jawarat back to the sultan.
When Zafira and Nasir meet, things don’t go according to either of their plans. And when an ancient evil rears its head, they must put their urge to kill each other aside to try to save Arawiya once and for all.
The depth of the world Faizal creates is breathtaking. From the haunting starkness of Demenhur to the scorching desert of Sharr to the mysterious and deadly Arz, Faizal pays almost obsessive attention to every detail in the lands she imagines. Reading Faizal’s descriptions, it’s impossible not to find yourself fully transported into her tale, surrounded by her world.
But it’s not just in her settings that Faizal excels. The myths that become the foundation of the plot are so rich they naturally permeate her story in a way that never feels forced. Every creature or new piece of lore she introduces feels thoughtful and relevant; nothing exists just to take up space. Reading We Hunt the Flame is like taking a master class in worldbuilding.
As a protagonist, Zafira strikes the perfect balance of strength and vulnerability. Her internal struggles with identity, honor, and family feel real and complex, and it’s incredible to watch her grow throughout the novel. The chemistry between her and Nasir is palpable, and sure to launch a thousand ships from their first interaction. Not all writers understand the subtleties of a charged look or a light kiss on the back of the neck, but Faizal proves a novel can be seductive without getting too explicit.
While Zafira and Nasir’s solemnnity can at times feel unrelenting, Faizal lightens the mood with a cast of supporting characters, a band of scoundrels and fighters that will win the hearts of Six of Crows fans. Altair in particular is a standout, a charming rogue with his own secrets and a part to play in the battles ahead. He’s often a breath of fresh air, and Faizal’s decision to elevate him from supporting role, turning him into a hero in his own right, is a welcome one.
The cliffhanger ending hints at more triumphs and tribulations for our heroes ahead. If her sequel is anywhere near as exciting and well-written as this debut, readers will be clamoring to visit Arawiya again.
We Hunt the Flame is on sale now.