It takes about 124 pages to be swept away to the city of Noor, but once it happens, it is hard to come back. The 391 page fantasy story takes a while to get going, but the character driven plot filled with amazingly strong and diverse women is worth the slow start. Middle school readers and up (AR 5.8) will enjoy the blend of Islamic imagery, sub-continent Asian culture, fire, Ifrits, Djinn, family, relate-ablity and good quality story telling. The fact that it is a main stream book, with so much religion and culture makes it all the more remarkable in its universal appeal.
Fatima is a Muslim girl adopted by a Hindu family, only everyone in the entire city was killed eight years ago except for Fatima, her adopted sister, and an elderly lady, when the Shayateen attacked. The orderly Ifrit were asked to defeat the Shayateen and protect the city, and when they did, the wealthy returned along with people from other cities. Thus Noor is now a vibrant city of different backgrounds, cultures, religions, and languages repopulated and ruled in halves by the Maharaja, Aarush and Ifrit Emir, Zulfikar.
Fatima works as a messenger and her favorite place to deliver packages to is an old book shop owned by Firdaus, an Ifrit she regards as a fatherly figure. He has taught her languages and provides her a place to learn and grow. When he dies in front of Fatima, she is forever changed, literally, he transfers his powers to her, and she is now not only part human, part Ifrit, but also the Name Giver, an incredibly powerful and important being in bringing the smokeless Djinn from their wold to her hers.
With rebel forces threatening the Maharaja’s rule, Ghul and Shayateen entering the city, a taint threatening the leader of the Ifrit, a traitor in each palace, and a budding romance between Fatima and Zulfiqar, the characters pull you in and create an enjoyable story that is vivid, fantastic, and hard to put down.
WHY I LIKE IT:
The story doesn’t have a neat and tidy plot culminating in a climax, but the character arcs and vivid world building pull you in and keep you interested. I love that the characters are different and complex and unique, and that women are so so strong and celebrated for their strength in all spheres, not at the expense of the males, but solidly in their own right. It is refreshing and glorious to see the matriarchal Ifrit world contrasted with the human world, and the strong females that emerge in both.
I love that there is so much diversity and tolerance and the book doesn’t shy away from presenting faith practices and acceptance in such an honest manner. There is a four page glossary and it is needed, yet not overwhelming at the same time. The most read page in the book for me however, was the Dramatis Personae page listing the characters. Until that 124 page mark, I was constantly flipping back trying to keep everyone straight, not so much because the characters are confusing, but “what” they are took a little while to stick.
I got sucked in by this book truly, I ignored my children during our Corona virus quarantine one day to read the second half, and I don’t regret it one bit. The romance, was a bit cheesy at the end, but it was clean, and sweet and presented as a way forward, not as a settling or sacrificing choice for either character which was greatly appreciated.
There are a few kisses once the two main characters are married. There is stalking and attempted sexual assault by a character, but Fatima more than took care of that with the support of many strong females. There is mention of a homosexual relationship, but not dwelled on, and I think one could argue that there is possibly something more going on between two of the females, but it isn’t explored. There is death and killing and violence, but nothing extreme.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
I had hoped to sneak this in for book club next month, but with school closed indefinitely, it might have to wait until next year. I think girls will gravitate more to it than boys, but I think that is ok, because often girls need more of a nudge, in my experience, to give fantasy a try. I am trying to convince my daughter to read it, but the first 100 pages are pretty slow, so if I can’t force her through it, I don’t know what chance I’ll have, here’s hoping.
Interview with Nafiza Azad and Hafsah Faizal (We Hunt the Flame) https://www.slj.com/?detailStory=hafsah-faizal-and-nafiza-azad-interview