Culture Writer Halima Ahad writes about the New York Bestselling Author Hafsah Faizal and her popular young adult duology We Hunt the Flame

First year English and Creative Writing student :)
Images by Whyhelvetica , Cover Art by Simon Prades , Type by Erin Fitzsimmons

Hafsah Faizal is an author everyone should know about. She is known as the New York Times bestselling author of the ‘Sands of Arawiya‘ duology and here are a couple of reasons why I think you should read her books, including her upcoming novel A Tempest of Tea, which is set to come out Fall 2022. 

Faizal is the first Muslim PoC author I have come across; she is of Arab and Sri Lankan descent. This is appealing for a PoC girl like myself because I was finally able to myself in characters from the ‘Sands of Arawiya’ duology – strong female protagonists of Arabian descent who fight for what they truly believe in. Her characters, Zafira Iskandar and Kifah Darwish, empower women of colour, especially younger girls, and this is emphasised in her work. By doing this, she helps younger female readers feel like they can do anything and this is so important especially because of the society that we live in today, where the feminist movement is strong and girls are encouraged to go into their desired career path regardless of society’s expectations.

She helps younger female readers feel like they can do anything

In a recent NBC News article, Faizal explained how sharing her Muslim identity helped her write her debut novel We Hunt The Flame. Faizal started blogging about YA and middle grade books when she began IceyBooks at 17 years old. Faizal eventually caught onto the Young Adult reading community and thought to herself, as she told NBC News, ‘I sometimes had this really crazy dream of ‘I am reading all of these books. Why don’t I just try writing?” She then began writing for the brilliant novel we know today as We Hunt The Flame

We Hunt The Flame is a prime example of how Faizal can weave her rich Arabian heritage throughout the novel. The story follows Zafira Iskandar, otherwise known as ‘the Hunter,’ who disguises herself as a man and braves the forest of the Arz to feed her people. Nasir Ghameq is the Prince of Death, killing those who come in the way of his father, the sultan. The Kingdom of Arawiya is in danger as the Arz sweeps closer with each passing day, engulfing the land in shadow. It is up to Zafira to save her people as she is the only one able to uncover the hidden, magical artefact that can restore magic to her suffering world. Both Zafira and Nasir are on a dangerous mission while ancient evil stirs and pose a greater threat. Praise for We Hunt The Flame includes fellow Young Adult author Roshani Choksi, author of bestselling book The Gilded Wolves: ‘A sparkling debut, full of mystery and magic, vivid characters and rich language.’

We Hunt the Flame‘s writing and world-building is amazing. The world Faizal builds is so vibrant and concrete, and this is evident in the descriptions, imagery and eloquent language Faizal uses throughout the novel. The world-building of Arawiya is so intricate, it is evident Faizal put much effort and time into this – the reader can familiarise themselves with Arab culture through specific scenes. The different settings the reader gets to see, including the drastic change in scenery, were brilliant, and the ornate descriptions of the food were mouth-watering; these things definitely hooked me as I was reading the novel.

I felt connected to [the characters] in every way

The characters were deep and complex; their backstories were especially so, as they were weaved throughout the novel. I felt connected to them in every way. The romance of the novel was significant as we got to see the journey between Zafira and Nasir. The enemies to lovers trope hooked me from the start and I was very invested in the development of their story. The side characters also played a significant part in the novel – Kifah and Benyamin in the zumra and Zafira’s little sister Lana. I felt that their contribution to the novel was really important because they showed the importance of sticking together and being with your loved ones when you need them the most. 

The duology was absolutely amazing and I could not recommend it enough. The Arabian aesthetic was really pleasing and the glossary at the back of the novel really helps new readers who are unaware of Arabian language and culture. This also enables them to learn throughout the novel.  The intricate world-building of the Kingdom of Arawiya and the Arz was absolutely fantastic and the magical artefact as a plot device hooked me from the start; I was unable to put the book down.

I believe the duology has everything the Young Adult genre needs and more

The theme of found family is very strong throughout the novel and this is present with the zumra, with their connections and relationship developments. They are a strong, determined and yet emotionally connected group. The plot twists in the duology were really unexpected and made me want to keep reading. I believe the duology has everything the Young Adult genre needs and more. 

Faizal currently has a work in progress, A Tempest of Tea. The story is pitched as King Arthur meets Peaky Blinders with vampires. It follows a gang of outcasts in a deadly heist led by Arthie Casimir to save her tearoom, which fronts an illegal blood house where local vampires can purchase fresh blood. The plot of this new YA novel sounds compelling and I am sure Faizal will do a fantastic job of redefining what it truly means to be a YA author. I have no doubt she will be creating another bestseller – one ready to hit the shelves in autumn next year. 

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