Book Review: The Candle and The Flame

the candle and the flameThe Candle and The Flame
by Nafiza Azad
Young Adult / Fantasy
391 pages
Published May 2019

The setting of this book reminds me of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. Fatima survived the slaughter of the entire population of her city, and since then it has been repopulated by people from many countries, walks of life, cultures, and languages. The city is a complete melting pot, and I wish more had been made of that fact, honestly.

I wish more had been made of a lot of things in this book. I liked it – but it wasn’t as spectacular as I’d hoped. It’s possible it’s because I read it right after We Hunt the Flame, which any book would have trouble standing up to; it’s possible it’s because I was coming down with a cold when I read it and my brain wasn’t throwing itself into the story as much as it normally does. There’s a lot of possible reasons – but I just didn’t love it. It wasn’t bad. But it wasn’t great.

I mean, it’s djinns and humans working together – that’s usually my catnip – but I just couldn’t lose myself in this story. I was annoyed at the main character a LOT. For insisting on going by two names the entire book, which were a mouthful. For agreeing to things she should have fought. For fighting against things that were in her own best interests.

The changes that the description speaks of – that change Fatima in ways she can’t fathom – effectively turns her into a different person. Something about that sat very wrong with me. Her sister recognized she was no longer the sister she knew, but she wasn’t allowed to grieve. That bothered me quite a lot. I can’t explain exactly why without spoiling plot, but the book didn’t treat it like an issue, and it definitely was.

Honestly, I’d skip this one and go read We Hunt The Flame or Rebel of the Sands instead.

From the cover of The Candle and The Flame:

A GIRL WITH THE FIRE OF A DJINNI. A CITY SCARRED BY VIOLENCE.

Fatima lives in the city of Noor, a thriving stop along the Silk Road. There the music of myriad languages fills the air, and people of all faiths thread their lives together. However, the city bears scars of its recent past, when the chaotic tribe of Shayateen Djinn slaughtered its entire population – except for Fatima and two other humans. Now rules by a new maharajah, Noor is protected from the Shayateen by the Ifrit, Djinn of order and reason, and by their commander, Zulfikar.

But when one of the most potent of the Ifrit dies, trouble brews and Fatima is changed in ways she cannot fathom, ways that scare even those who love her. Oud in hand, Fatima is drawn into the intrigues of the maharajah and his sister, the affairs of Zulfikar and the Djinn, and the dangers of a magical battlefield.

Nafiza Azad weaves an immersive tale of extraordinary magic and the importance of names; fiercely independent women; enticing food; and, perhaps most importantly, the work for harmony within a city of a thousand religions, cultures, languages, and cadences. 

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Book Review: We Hunt The Flame

we hunt the flameWe Hunt The Flame
by Hafsah Faizal
Young Adult/Fantasy
472 pages
Published May 2019

This is the first book in a planned duology, and I NEED THE SECOND ONE RIGHT NOW. Zafira is a firecracker, and Nasir is a precious gumdrop, and Altair is a mystery, while I can’t help but read Kifah as Valkyrie from Avengers. (Seriously, if this ever gets made into a movie and Tessa Thompson DOESN’T get cast as Kifah, I’ll be upset.)

These characters, and this setting, and this worldbuilding, and this plot…Faizal has blown me away with this book. There are twists I saw coming, and some I did not, so I’m not going to go into much detail about the plot, but Zafira and a few other people are searching for a magical artifact to restore magic to their kingdom, after it was locked away many years ago. I don’t remember exactly how long it’s been; Zafira can’t remember having magic, but she does mention at one point that her mother was a healer. So sometime during her mother’s lifetime? The kingdom has been cursed in the absence of magic, different curses for the different districts, and the Arz is a magical forest encroaching on the borders. Almost no one who goes into the Arz ever comes out again, so it’s incredibly dangerous for anyone who isn’t Zafira. Zafira has the unique ability to always know which direction she needs to go to reach her goal, and it’s this ability that brings her to the attention of the Silver Witch, who sets her on the path to find the artifact. The artifact is, of course, on the enchanted island that serves as a prison for all the magical objects and creatures, so Zafira and her companions face all kinds of unknown dangers.

I really enjoyed basically everything about this book. There was character development, a touch of romance, a team learning to work as a team, secrets, magic, ancient evils, trauma and emotional work…just a lot. (Also enemies-to-lovers, if you’re into that.) It is a brilliant epic fantasy, and I cannot WAIT for the second book. I need to know what happens! (It doesn’t end on a cliffhanger, exactly, but things are definitely NOT. RESOLVED.)

From the cover of We Hunt The Flame:

PEOPLE LIVED BECAUSE SHE KILLED.

PEOPLE DIED BECAUSE HE LIVED.

Zafira is the Hunter, disguising herself as a man when she braves the cursed forest of the Arz to feed her people. Nasir is the Prince of Death, assassinating those foolish enough to defy his autocratic father, the sultan. If Zafira is exposed as a girl, all of her achievements will be rejected; if Nasir displays his compassion, his father will punish him in the most brutal of ways. Both Zafira and Nasir are legends in the kingdom of Arawiya – but neither wants to be.

War is brewing, and the Arz sweeps closer with each passing day, engulfing the land in shadow. While Zafira embarks on a quest to uncover a lost artifact that can restore magic to her suffering world and stop the Arz, Nasir is sent by the sultan on a similar mission: retrieve the artifact and kill the Hunter. But an ancient evil stirs as their journey unfolds – and the prize they seek may pose a threat greater than either can imagine.

Set in a richly detailed world inspired by ancient Arabia, We Hunt The Flame is a gripping debut of discovery, conquering fear, and taking identity into your own hands.

Book Review: The Tiger At Midnight

tiger at midnightThe Tiger At Midnight
by Swati Teerdhala
Young Adult / Fantasy
484 pages
Published April 2019

I’m posting this during AnthroCon; I thought it was fitting given the nature of the royal family’s magic; they can turn into humanoid animals. Or complete animals. I’m not actually completely clear on that point. It’s not explored much in this volume, but I think it will be in the next book.

The Tiger At Midnight as the first in a fantasy trilogy, set in two countries. The two countries were founded by two fraternal twins. They bound themselves to the land, and that blood bond has to be renewed every… year? some period of time – by the rulers of the two countries – a woman from one royal family, and a man from the other. In this manner the countries have been prosperous for centuries, until about fifteen years before this book begins. There was a coup against the queendom. The royal family was slaughtered, and the military has propped up a king since then. In the ensuing years, that country has begun to deteriorate; there have been droughts, animal attacks, forests have gotten darker and more dangerous – the bond is dying with no royal blood to sustain it. The other country can only sustain it so long before it will start affecting them, too.

So this is the setting. There’s rumors of a lost princess, but how much of that is truth and how much is foolish hope is yet to be determined. Into this strife we have Esha, a rebel also known as The Viper. The Viper is a mythical assassin who everyone thinks is a man, mostly because the imposter king disenfranchised his country’s women, so obviously someone so accomplished must be a man. Kunal is a soldier raised by his uncle who can’t remember his father at all, and only knows that his mother was one of the queen’s ladies-in-waiting who died in the coup. Kunal, the only one who realizes The Viper is a woman, winds up chasing her across the country, and the cat-and-mouse style of their chase makes up most of the book and is incredibly entertaining. The two are well-matched in skills and wits, and the way they spark off each other is great. Every time he catches up to Esha, she pokes another hole in his belief system, and Kunal begins to see how much the soldiers have been lied to about what is happening out in the country they are fighting for.

I really enjoyed the worldbuilding here, and I really hope the glimpse we saw of the royal family’s magic gets expanded on in the rest of the trilogy. It is otherwise a pretty low-magic world; there are no wizards or spells or enchantments or anything. The dichotomy of the two kingdoms is interesting, and I can’t wait to see if they can salvage the bond to the land somehow, or reforge it. But the next book isn’t due out until 2020 and doesn’t even have a title yet!

This is a great action-oriented Young Adult light fantasy book, with a touch of romance, politics, and just a pinch of magic. Highly recommended!

From the cover of The Tiger At Midnight:

A BROKEN BOND. A DYING LAND. A CAT AND MOUSE GAME THAT CAN ONLY END IN BLOODSHED.

ESHA is a legend, but no one knows. It’s only in the shadows that she moonlights as the Viper, the rebels’ highly skilled assassin. She’s devoted her life to avenging what she lost in the royal coup, and now she’s been tasked with her most important mission to date: taking down the ruthless General Hotha.

KUNAL has been a soldier since childhood, training morning and night to uphold the power of King Vardaan. His uncle, the general, has ensured that Kunal never strays from the path – even as a part of Kunal longs to join the outside world, which as been growing only more volatile. 

Then Esha’s and Kunal’s paths cross – and an unimaginable chain of events unfolds. Both the Viper and the soldier think they’re calling the shots, but they’re not the only players moving the pieces. As the  bonds that hold their land in order break down and the sins of the past meet the promise of a new future, both rebel and soldier must make unforgivable choices. 

Drawing inspiration from ancient Indian history and Hindu mythology, the first book in Swati Teerdhala’s debut fantasy trilogy captivates with electric romance, stunning action, and the fierce bonds that hold people together – and drive them apart.

Book Review: The Shadowglass

shadow glassThe Shadowglass
by Rin Chupeco
Fantasy
456 pages
Published 2019

I wish I had the first two books in front of me to refer back to while reading this one. Specifically, the last few chapters of book two. Like the first two books, this one alternates chapters between the bard’s point of view, and the story told to the bard by Tea. The difference is that they have separated paths at this point; so instead of the bard’s chapters being very short, getting clarification on the story she’s telling, he’s now telling what’s happening to him in present day, interspersed with Tea’s letters that he’s carrying, with the rest of her story. This gets VERY confusing. It’s confusing even trying to explain the timeline! Okay, if we split up all three books between Tea’s story and the Bard’s viewpoint, chronologically they’d look like this:

The Bone Witch – Tea’s Story
The Heartforger – Tea’s Story
The Shadowglass – Tea’s Story
The Bone Witch – Bard’s Viewpoint
The Heartforger – Bard’s Viewpoint
The Shadowglass – Bard’s Viewpoint

See why I’d like to have the other two books to refer back to? This book is giving me part 3 and part 6. And while it was pretty easy to keep them straight in books one and two, because the Bard wasn’t doing much besides having a conversation with Tea, in this book, he’s off seeing OTHER important events that are happening while Tea is doing other things – and occasionally flitting in and out of his orbit too!

It is a good conclusion – the end, especially, had me crying into my book – but most of the book was very, VERY confusing. Like another conclusion I’ve read recently, if you moved straight through the trilogy with no waiting time, it might not be too bad.

What ESPECIALLY annoys me, is in the Bard’s viewpoint in the first two books, she does something that is supposed to be impossible. So in her story in The Shadowglass, this thing is impossible. But in the Bard’s viewpoint, she’s ALREADY DONE IT. And there’s no explanation of HOW. That’s really what I’d like to refer back to the other two books about. Having that particular task be in the time gap between the two parts of the book was poorly done. Like, really? I read Book 2 almost a YEAR AGO. I don’t remember how that part happened.

So that’s particularly frustrating. I wish Book 3 had condensed to one timeline. I don’t really see why it couldn’t have. It would have been much less confusing!

From the cover of The Shadowglass:

I had no plans of living forever.

In the Eight Kingdoms, none have greater strength or influence than the asha, who hold elemental magic. But only a bone witch has the power to raise the dead. Tea has used this dark magic to breathe life into those she has loved and lost . . . and those who would join her army against the deceitful royals. But Tea’s quest to conjure a shadowglass, to achieve immortality for the one person she loves most in the world, threatens to consume her.

In this dramatic conclusion to Tea’s journey, her heartsglass only grows darker with each new betrayal. She is haunted by blackouts and strange visions, and when she wakes with blood on her hands, Tea must answer to a power greater than she’s ever known. Tea’s life – and the fate of the kingdoms – hangs in the balance.

Book Review: Empire of Sand

empire of sandEmpire of Sand
by Tasha Suri
Fantasy
432 pages
Published November 2018

This is one of my reads for the Year of the Asian Reading Challenge. It follows Mehr, a half-Amrithi, half-Ambhan girl who refuses to let anyone erase her Amrithi heritage, even if the Empire oppresses the Amrithi tribes horribly. When her gift manifests, the Empire comes for her, and she learns the horrible truth behind the Empire’s longevity. Most empires inevitably reach a point where they can expand no longer, and gradually decline. This Empire has not done that, and the Amrithi pay for it with their blood. Along the way, she finds a daiva willing to bargain with her, and an Amrithi man bound by his vows but trying to circumvent them for her sake.

I really liked the magic in this book, and just the world-building in general. Mehr is a strong-willed character, and shows character growth in the book, transforming from the pampered daughter of a governor to a woman willing to fight and die for her beliefs and those she loves.

The sequel, Realm of Ash, appears to follow Mehr’s younger sister, which makes sense, as Mehr’s book seems pretty self-contained. You could easily just read the first book and be perfectly happy at the ending, but I’m quite happy to see there’s more written in this world. I am eager to see what happens after the events of the first book. It’s coming out in November, so I’ll have to make a note to myself to remember it exists!

From the cover of Empire of Sand:

The Amrithi are outcasts; nomads descended from desert spirits, they are coveted and persecuted throughout the Empire for the power in their blood. Mehr is the illegitimate daughter of an imperial governor and an exiled Amrithi mother she can barely remember but whose face and magic she has inherited: She can manipulate the dreams of the gods to alter the shape of the world.

When Mehr’s power comes to the attention of the Emperor’s most feared mystics, she must use every ounce of will, subtlety, and power she possesses to resist their cruel agenda – and should she fail, the gods themselves may awaken seeking vengeance . . . .

Friday 56 – Empire of Sand

empire of sandThe Friday 56 is hosted by Freda’s Voice. The rules are simple – turn to page 56 in your current read (or 56% in your e-reader) and post a few non-spoilery sentences.

This week’s quote is from Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri, a book I’m reading for the Year of the Asian Reading Challenge.

“I allowed your mother to keep her customs,” her father acknowledged. “But in raising you as I have, I have kept mine. Make no mistake, Mehr: You are my daughter. You have been raised in my household, fed with my food, clothed from my coffers. You are your mother’s daughter . . .” He faltered. “But you are also mine. And half your blood is Ambhan, noble and strong.”