Saturday 8 May 2021

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Review: The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza Azad

The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza Azad

The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza Azad

Published: 14th May 2019 | Publisher: Scholastic | Source: Won
Nafiza Azad's Website

Azad's debut YA fantasy is set in a city along the Silk Road that is a refuge for those of all faiths, where a young woman is threatened by the war between two clans of powerful djinn.

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 weave 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 ruled 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, 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.

In this William C. Morris YA Debut Award Finalist novel, Nafiza Azad weaves an immersive tale of magic and the importance of names; fiercely independent women; and, perhaps most importantly, the work for harmony within a city of a thousand cultures and cadences.
From The StoryGraph

The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza Azad is a book I've been really looking forward to reading for such a long time! It sounded absolutely right up my street, and as expected, it was such a great read!

The Candle and the Flame is set in the city of Noor, along the Silk Road, in the country of Qirat. It follows the story of Fatima, a woman we discover in the prologue was orphaned as a four-year-old when her family was attacked by the djinn tribe, the Shayateen. The only reason Fatima survived is because Ghazala, an Ifrit, saves her, and in doing so, changes her irrevocably. Fatima was adopted by a family in Noor, but eight years ago, Shayateen came to Noor and massacred everyone, with only Fatima, her sister Sunaina, and one elderly woman surviving. The Maharajah at the time sought assistance from the Ifrit in defeating the Shayateen, but their assistance came too late. However, in order to keep the country of Qirat safe, a deal was struck that Qirat would be half ruled by the Maharajah, and half ruled by the Ifrit, with every city having it's own Ifrit Emir.

This is how things have been for the last eight years, humans and Ifrit living peaceably together. But when an Ifrit bookseller, Firdaus, who teaches Fatima languages, falls ill due to poison that will destroy his mind, in order to save everyone, Firdaus magically passes on a task to Fatima, before dying by suicide. In doing so, he sparks something in Fatima that changes who she is at her core. Because in order to save her all those years ago, Ghazala died by suicide, transfering her djinn fire to Fatima. Now her fire is awake, Fatima is now Fatima Ghazala, a human with djinn fire and with abilities needed by the Ifrit.

The world building in The Candle and the Flame is fantastic! I loved the history of the city and the country, but also Fatima Ghazala's own history. It's just so rich and lush and imaginative, I really loved it! The story is told from multiple perspectives, that of Fatima Ghazala and the Emir of Noor, Zulfikar, but also Sunaina, Fatima Ghazala's sister, Aarush, the young maharajah who came to the throne when his father and older brother died in battles against the Shayateen eight years ago, and his younger sister Bhavya. It was great getting all these different perspectives, of the various different subplots, and how they effected the main story.

It was a little jarring at first how much Fatima changed when she became Fatima Ghazala, as the two halves of herself merged. She seemed to change so much; from a sweet, caring almost quiet young woman, to someone who seemed oddly formal, assertive, almost cold at first. But after a while, we do recognise Fatima in Fatima Ghazala, and she's such a wonderful character! I really loved that the change didn't go unnoticed, and seeing how Sunaina reacts to her. She is so conflicted, because this is not the Fatima she knows and loves, and on top of that, she also seems to be part djinn, and it was djinn who killed their parents. It was so well done, the way their relationship changes and how it develops from there, but ultimately, it's beautiful.

The focus is on Fatima Ghazala, and what the change in her means for the Ifrit, because Firdaus had a very important role among the Ifrit, one that meant his identity was kept secret to all but a small number. But now Fatima has this role and his abilities, and her being a human with djinn fire could cause problems politically, but also physically; no-one knows if she will be physically up to the task. This leads to the Emir, Zulfikar, keeping a close eye on her, both for her safety and because she is much needed.

But through his perspective and that of the maharajah, Aarush, we get to see the interplay of court politics both for the ifrit and the humans, which I absolutely adored! It's kind of more of a subplot for most of the story, but I lapped it up. And I loved the addition of Bhavya, and seeing her story arc as part privileged princess who wants for nothing and doesn't see the poverty in her city, and part a princess who is expected to act how and do what she's told by her mother. She was incredible, really. Seeing her grow and actually step up when it's important was brilliant. She has to grow up very quickly at a certain point, and I just thought she was brilliant.

I do feel like the story lulled for a while, and not a huge amount happened. But with the number of narrators, certain aspects of the story had to slowly find their place. When I finished The Candle and the Flame and realised it was a stand alone, I was quite disappointed, as it felt like not a huge amount happened until the last quarter. But looking back, I do feel the pacing made sense for the story, and I'm now happier with it.

I'm not going to deny that I want another book. The last quarter was absolutely epic, and I'd love to see where the story could go next. I'd also love to see a story that follows Bhavya or Sunaina, and especially a story about the royal family specifically. Just more in general! I loved this book so much, and just don't want to leave this world! I really loved The Candle and the Flame and highly recommend it!

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