I have been curious about Sands of Arawiya duology for the longest time. I mean just drooling over the gorgeous covers at bookstores. This month I finally got around to ordering and reading both We Hunt the Flame and We Free the Stars. Here’s what I thought.
We Hunt the Flame
Before we go further, I have to say the print for my edition was way too small for me. My poor eyes really struggled there, and it made me wish I was reading on my Kindle instead. It definitely had me in a predisposed irritated mood which no reader wants to be in when reading!
Honestly, the set up for We Hunt the Flame was a bit too similar to Hunger Games. Zafira, the female protagonist, is almost exactly like Katnis. Her skill with the bow, the little sister (Primrose, Hi!). Even down to the boy next door who has grown up with her and is in love with her but sadly gets a nonfrontal rejection. Luckily I am a sucker for south Asian fantasy settings so the ancient Arab imagery kept me interested.
The plot itself unfolded quite fast with a lot of action so that I didn’t feel bored. However it did seem like the standard collection of YA event tropes. I liked Nasir’s, the male protagonist slash assassin prince, POV better just because I think it was more interesting – with the family pressure he had to deal with (from his Sultan father) and the pull of his growing feelings for Zafira.
There is quite an appeal to found family sentiments (the zumla), but in this first book, I just didn’t feel the chemistry and comradery of the group. Nasir and Zafira’s chemistry worked though, and that’s what tugged me along to the second book.
We Free the Stars
We Free the Stars is almost 600 pages long, and it felt that way, especially for the first 200ish pages. The story felt very slow, and even Nasir’s POV became a bit too pining for me. The one redeeming factor, I think, is Altair’s character (who, by the way, reminds me a lot like Nikolai Lantsov in Shadow and Bones). He’s the General of the kingdom, and well, his identity has a bit of a twist in it.
Once it got to the middle point the plot was much more interesting. Towards the end there was even a bit of Zafira descending into delicious madness thanks to the power of the Jawarat (a magical book). I didn’t understand why this was painted as morally bad. I honestly thought it was one of the coolest things she did! Like finally, Zafira’s villain era, yeay!
That brings me to one of the aspects that irked me during this duology. I feel that there was quite a heavy hand on being good and getting on that moral high ground, while at this point of my life I have to say I’m much more interested in gray anti-hero stories (cue Taylor Swift).
Oh, the writing throughout Sands of Arawiya was definitely atmospheric, though at several action points it got me confused as to what actually happened. All in all, if you’re looking for a standard, happy end, romantic YA fantasy adventure, then I think Sands of Arawiya will do fine.