We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal

Title: We Hunt the Flame
Author: Hafsah Faizal
Series: Sands of Arawiya, #1
Pages: 472
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Release Date: May 14th 2019

      “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 king. If Zafira was exposed as a girl, all of her achievements would be rejected; if Nasir displayed his compassion, his father would punish him in the most brutal of ways.
      Both 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. When 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 king 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.”

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“There was a pulse deep inside her that relished those visits into the depths of darkness. She hated the Arz. She hated it so much, she craved it.”

Hafsah Faizal’s debut We Hunt the Flame is a sweeping Arab-inspired fantasy that gets better with each page turned. In order to keep her people from starving Zafira bint Iskandar has disguised herself as the Hunter, the only person able to enter the evil forest known as the Arz without being driven to madness. In Arawiya, all caliphates have been touched by the Arz, one of the many aftereffects of the land being robbed of magic years ago. When Zafira is approached by the enigmatic Silver Witch, she is offered the opportunity to rid the world of the Arz for good and restore magic. But in order to do so, she must journey to the island of Sharr, one masked in mystery. Unbeknownst to her, she isn’t the only one being sent to Sharr. The sultan has sent his own son, known as the Prince of Death, tasked with retrieving the book that promises to undo the curse laid upon the land and kill the famed Hunter. In order to survive the island, strangers must form unlikely alliances, but their distrust of one another may be their undoing.

Faizal’s writing is nothing short of brilliant. Her descriptions are lush and often lyrical. She has a knack for capturing every dark and eerie backdrop. The Arz slowly creeps upon the land and any who dares enter unwillingly surrenders their sanity. Beyond the Arz is the Barensea, which is home to ferocious creatures waiting to devour wayward travelers. But it is the Sharr that completely captivated me as a reader. The island was once a prison, but has been cut off from the land of the living since the disappearance of magic. Monsters await in the shadows and the very island itself craves bloodshed.

We Hunt the Flame‘s characters are just as captivating as its setting. Zafira has made herself into a hunter, the very thing her people rely on in order to survive. She’s been plagued by her father’s death, one she feels responsible for. Being the Hunter has become her only purpose and she isn’t sure who she would be without it. Nasir is known throughout Arawiya as the Prince of Death, a lethal weapon Sultan Ghameq wields across the lands. But in truth Nasir has been molded by the cruelty of his father, forced to become a monster in order to survive. But still, there is a flicker of humanity in Nasir that refuses to snuffed out, not matter how much he wants it to. Altair is a renown general, but it is his humor that really leaps off the page. His contentious relationship with Nasir is equal parts enjoyable and insightful when it comes to both characters.

Kifah and Benyamin are the final characters introduced in the novel. The former a female warrior, independent and deadly, and I can’t wait to learn more about her in the next novel. Benyamin is very much a mystery, his knowledge far exceeds any of the others and there are times when you’re not quite sure what his true motivates are. I do wish we had gotten a chance to spend more time with these two characters and felt that certain dynamics would have felt more rewarding if we had been introduced to them earlier. There were also times where it felt like certain relationships went from contentious to something else a little too rapidly. It almost felt like the novel left out key interactions which would have made the evolution of these relationships feel more consistent.

Hafsah Faizal’s debut is a little slow getting started, but once it sank its claws into me, I could not stop reading. If you like fantasy books full of dark foes and equally dark characters, We Hunt the Flame needs to be on your TBR.

★ ★ ★ ★

(4/5)

Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Title: Signal to Noise
Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Series: N/A
Pages: 272
Publisher: Solaris
Release Date: February 10th 2015

      “A literary fantasy about love, music and sorcery, set against the background of Mexico City.
    Mexico City, 1988: Long before iTunes or MP3s, you said “I love you” with a mixtape. Meche, awkward and fifteen, has two equally unhip friends — Sebastian and Daniela — and a whole lot of vinyl records to keep her company. When she discovers how to cast spells using music, the future looks brighter for the trio. With help from this newfound magic, the three friends will piece together their broken families, change their status as non-entities, and maybe even find love…
    Mexico City, 2009: Two decades after abandoning the metropolis, Meche returns for her estranged father’s funeral. It’s hard enough to cope with her family, but then she runs into Sebastian, and it revives memories from her childhood she thought she buried a long time ago. What really happened back then? What precipitated the bitter falling out with her father? And, is there any magic left?

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Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Signal to Noise combines music, nostalgia, and magic in a novel that takes readers on a decades long journey of heartbreak and healing. Signal to Noise alternates between the late 1980s and 2009 Mexico City. In 1988 Meche and her friends Sebastian and Daniela are outcasts. Too weird to be accepted into the popular crowd, the three friends find solace in one another. When Meche discovers her records are able to weave magic, she enlists the help of her friends to change their luck. Fast forward to 2009 and Meche is returning home for her father’s funeral. She hasn’t seen Sebastian and Daniela for decades, but the sting of their betrayal still bites. As Meche deals with her father’s passing and the resentment she still carries, she unexpectedly runs into Sebastian. Meche has spent the last two decades trying to forget what happened the year she and her friends discovered magic, but realizes no matter how far you run from home or for how long, your personal ghosts will always find you.

Moreno-Garcia’s debut novel is at its core an ode to music. If you are any kind of music lover, there is plenty to enjoy in this one. Meche is a bit of a music snob, but her love for music is contagious. Music brought her closer to her father and is what led her to Sebastian. Even when these relationships imploded, music was always there to soothe her. I love that Moreno-Garcia chooses music as the mode for magic. Music can instantly transport you to another time and Moreno-Garcia shifts between two different timelines with such ease using music as a constant in both timelines.

This isn’t a novel where characters make the best decisions, but their choices feel human. As teens, Meche and her friends are bewitched by the idea of magic. Not-so-secret crushes and far-off dreams no longer seem impossible. But as Meche, Sebastian, and Daniela begin to discover just how much power they have, it becomes difficult to draw a line between righting wrongs and exacting revenge because you like the power. Their friendship, once the strongest relationship in each of their lives, begins to crack. As readers slowly learn what caused Meche to leave Mexico City and what ultimately broke apart this friend group, she returns as an adult who hasn’t much changed. She’s still moody and abrasive, unable to let go of all the hurt in her past. As she sorts through her father’s belongings, she is forced to confront her feelings about him, the kind of father he was versus the kind of father she needed him to be.

I really enjoyed Meche and Sebastian’s scenes together, as kids and adults. They never quite understood their feelings for one another, but the tension Moreno-Garcia incorporates in their interactions as adults makes for some compelling interactions. As a reader you could feel the weight of the past pushing down on both of them. Sebastian is waiting for Meche to remember what they used to have while Meche is fighting to regain her equilibrium. She’s survived all these years without him by forgetting. There’s something to be said about how Meche views the past as it feels very much like she’s seeing things from a convoluted viewpoint. She doesn’t want to remember, but still hangs on, tooth and nail, to all the resentment.

Signal to Noise‘s timelines build upon each other, creating a story of love and loss and second chances. With engaging characters and a moving storyline, Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s debut is as enchanting as the magic found within its pages.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★
(5/5)

Snapshot (ARC) Review: House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig

Title: House of Salt and Sorrows
Author: Erin A. Craig
Series: N/A
Pages: 426
Publisher: Delacorte
Release Date: August 6th 2019

*I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley which does not influence my review*

TW: mention of suicide, stillbirth

      “In a manor by the sea, twelve sisters are cursed.
      Annaleigh lives a sheltered life at Highmoor, a manor by the sea, with her sisters, their father, and stepmother. Once they were twelve, but loneliness fills the grand halls now that four of the girls’ lives have been cut short. Each death was more tragic than the last—the plague, a plummeting fall, a drowning, a slippery plunge—and there are whispers throughout the surrounding villages that the family is cursed by the gods.
      Disturbed by a series of ghostly visions, Annaleigh becomes increasingly suspicious that the deaths were no accidents. Her sisters have been sneaking out every night to attend glittering balls, dancing until dawn in silk gowns and shimmering slippers, and Annaleigh isn’t sure whether to try to stop them or to join their forbidden trysts. Because who—or what—are they really dancing with?
      When Annaleigh’s involvement with a mysterious stranger who has secrets of his own intensifies, it’s a race to unravel the darkness that has fallen over her family—before it claims her next.”

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  • Twelve Dancing Princesses retelling – There are multiple Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, and Snow White retellings, but I’ve always been partial to the Twelve Dancing Princesses. Erin A. Craig’s interpretation of the tale is familiar enough for those who enjoy the original, but takes plenty of liberties that will keep readers on their toes.
  • The mysteryHouse of Salt and Sorrows is more plot-based than character-driven and while I usually gravitate toward the latter, I became really invested in the mystery surrounding the deaths of the Thaumas’s daughters.
  • Horror elements – I did not expect this one to get so dark, but the lead character Annaleigh has strange nightmares, is troubled by the chilling things her younger sister shares with her about their dead sisters, and eventually begins to see apparitions with nefarious intentions.
  • The world-building (for the most part) – While I would argue that the novel could have delved deeper when it came to world-building, there were several elements that I really enjoyed including the mythology of this world.

  • Character development – I really wanted to see the characters in the novel grow more, but it never really felt like any of them necessarily changed throughout the course of the novel.
  •  The first half – I ended up liking the second-half of the novel a whole lot more than the first. It’s not a slow start, but nothing in the first half made it stand out for me and I kept comparing it to the masterpiece that is Juliet Marillier’s Wildwood Dancing, my personal favorite Twelve Dancing Princesses retelling.
  • Annaleigh’s romance arc – I go back and forth between whether I liked where the author took this storyline or whether it just fell flat for me. On one hand, it felt very fairytale-esque with Annaleigh’s first meeting her love interest and eventually finding out there’s more to him than meets the eye, but on the other hand, I’m not sure this part of his story completely made sense to the narrative.
  • Didn’t always feel consistent – I mentioned both the horror elements and the mythology of this world. The problem was these two didn’t always feel like they were part of the same world. With a few changes, I think this would have worked better as a horror novel rather than leaning into the fantastical aspects.


Erin A. Craig’s House of Salt and Sorrow is a solid retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses, but it is the dark and morose elements rather than the fantastical that had me wishing it hadn’t tried so hard to straddle two genres.

★★★
(3/5)

ARC Review: Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Title: Gods of Jade and Shadow
Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Series: N/A
Pages: 352
Publisher: Del Rey
Release Date: July 23rd 2019
**Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book through NetGalley which does not influence my review**

      “The Mayan god of death sends a young woman on a harrowing, life-changing journey in this dark, one-of-a-kind fairy tale inspired by Mexican folklore.
      The Jazz Age is in full swing, but Casiopea Tun is too busy cleaning the floors of her wealthy grandfather’s house to listen to any fast tunes. Nevertheless, she dreams of a life far from her dusty small town in southern Mexico. A life she can call her own.
    Yet this new life seems as distant as the stars, until the day she finds a curious wooden box in her grandfather’s room. She opens it—and accidentally frees the spirit of the Mayan god of death, who requests her help in recovering his throne from his treacherous brother. Failure will mean Casiopea’s demise, but success could make her dreams come true.
      In the company of the strangely alluring god and armed with her wits, Casiopea begins an adventure that will take her on a cross-country odyssey from the jungles of Yucatán to the bright lights of Mexico City—and deep into the darkness of the Mayan underworld.”

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With Gods of Jade and Shadow Silvia Morena-Garcia proves once again that she is a master at storytelling with this Mayan-inspired fantasy. In the dreary town of Uukumil in southern Mexico, Casiopea Tun toils away her youth, treated more as a servant than family to her affluent but ailing grandfather. The other members of her family look down upon her for her Indigenous heritage and those like her cousin Martín do not even consider her to be a real member of the Leyva family. Though she dreams of leaving and experiencing all the revels to be had during the 1920s, she has all but accepted this as her lot in life. Until one day when she opens a mysterious box, unleashing an imprisoned God and accidentally binding herself to him. Casiopea has no choice but to follow Hun-Kamé as he recovers missing pieces of himself hidden by his brother in a quest to regain the throne of Xibalba.

Moreno-Garcia draws from Mayan folklore to build the bones of Gods of Jade and Shadow. Hun-Kamé and his twin brother Vucub-Kamé have been locked in a battle of wills for centuries. The former was content to accept the Gods’ diminished role and growing indifference from mortals while Vucub-Kamé wishes to usher in a new era of adulation and sacrifice. The Gods’ power is irrevocably tied to the worship of mortals. Though they yield a great deal of influence, I found it really interesting that in this world mortals were given more freedom. Though a God cannot change fate, mortals have the autonomy to change their fate, making them unpredictable pieces in a game of chess.

Moreno-Garcia pays equal attention to both the mortal and immortal worlds. Readers are taken on a journey across Mexico and into the very heart of the Underworld known as Xibalba. Mexico City is both dazzling and overwhelming, having profited off the U.S.’s prohibition era. Here there is music and dancing and a celebration of life. Xibalba, though the land belongs to the dead, is subtle in its allure. Dangerous and misleading, but dark and mysterious. Through Hun-Kamé’s eyes, Casiopea begins to see that Xibalba is a place of beauty, despite its nefarious creatures, and a home to those who were born there.

Casiopea is a protagonist I grew fond of rather quickly. Though she longs for another life she isn’t consumed by her fantastical daydreams. She is too practical to drown in the sorrow of her insipid life. Though she has been treated as a servant and expects to give deference to the more prominent members of her family, Casiopea is stubborn and willful, defiant in the face of those with more power than her. This makes for an interesting dynamic with the haughty God Hun-Kamé, who expects obedience. Their bond chips away at Casiopea’s strength, but also makes Hun-Kamé more human with each passing day. Their relationship is slow to develop, subtle yet beautiful.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Gods of Jade and Shadow is a quiet, yet intoxicating fantasy with delicate prose and a satisfyingly, yet bittersweet romance.

★★★★
(4/5)