Will getting ARCs from authors and/or publishers ever cease being one of the most thrilling moments of my life?
I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank Nafiza Azad, the author, and Amy Goppert over at Scholastic, for sending me an e-ARC. I’d particularly like to thank Nafiza, Amy, and Scholastic for offering me the e-ARC when they found out shipping restrictions prevented me from being able to receive a physical ARC. Thank you for helping an international blogger out!
Title: The Candle and the Flame
Author: Nafiza Azad
Age Range: Young Adult
Genre: Fantasy, Romance
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.
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.
Trigger warnings: violence, depictions of blood and serious injury
☕ Quotes ☕
“The desert sings of loss, always loss, and if you stand quiet with your eyes closed, it will grieve with you too.
“The classics are singular narratives focusing on those privileged enough to know how to read and write. … Works by the common people? Those works may not have wondrous prose, baba, but the experiences they write about are theirs, which makes their stories so much better than those who live in gilded cages and write about the world outside. Those writers don’t have the luxury of ennui, you see.”
“His name is not a secret, but on her lips it seems like one.”
“No city is ever a simple sum of its streets and buildings. Neither is Noor. The City of Noor is a harmony of her people and her places.”
“You can’t judge an entire population of a people by the actions of a select few. You can’t use your grief and your sorrow to justify your hate and discrimination. My father taught me that. Didn’t yours?”
“Having her beside him just like this is the forever he is looking for.”
☕ Plot ☕
The city of Noor on the Silk Road is a melting pot of various cultures, both mortal and magical. It once survived an attack from the djinn of chaos, the Shayateen, and is now protected by the djinn of reason, the Ifrit. Headed by their commander, a handsome, powerful djinn named Zulfikar, the Ifrit keep Noor safe from other less benevolent djinn.
In this vibrant city lives Fatima, an adopted orphan girl who survived the first Shayateen massacre. She loves her life: she adores her sister, she has the closest of friends, and she gets daily lessons from an incredibly wise book-seller who loves her like a daughter—and is secretly the Name-Giver, the most powerful of the Ifrit who is responsible for enabling the Ifrit to travel to the mortal plane . But when a strange disease ravaging the Ifrit kills the Name-Giver, his power transfers to Fatima and no one can figure out how or why.
Nevertheless, the fact remains that Fatima—now going by the name Fatima Ghazala—is the new Ifrit Name-Giver, and Zulfikar is now obligated to protect her. He moves her into the palace, where the maharajah of Qirat and his family live, and where Zulfikar himself lives. Fatima Ghazala now finds herself caught up in the Ifrit’s affairs, the political machinations of the maharajah’s family, and even strange new feelings for Zulfikar.
Off the bat, I’d say probably one of the things most people are gonna find off about this book is that it seems to have no plot. And I’ll even be one of the first to admit that the plot is kind of all over the place. There’s no clear-cut goal to be achieved or defined end result needed, but I personally feel that this lack of a traditional plot is part of the The Candle and the Flame’s ultimate charm.
Instead, what The Candle and the Flame allows you to focus on is the development of the characters, and how they internalize and react to the situations they’re put in, as well as how they use these situations to grow and better themselves. It may not be as action-packed and event-driven a plot as most YA fantasy, but it was thoughtful, well-written, character-driven in the best way possible, and ultimately a delightful read that still had me eagerly turning the pages.
☕ Writing ☕
One of the things you’ll immediately notice about this book is how it utterly refuses to pander to a Western audience. Clothes, food, traditions, holidays, and other cultural practices are all named without explanation, whether in narration or in speech to a placeholder outsider character. I think readers who don’t hail from the same ethnic or cultural background as an author can benefit from this approach because we end up learning a lot more, without added labor from the author—emotional or otherwise.
I personally appreciated the chance to look up and learn more about the Muslim and South Asian prayers, holidays, outfits, food, etc. Not only that, but I also respected and appreciated how very tangibly I could feel that this book was a labor of love from the author dedicated to people like her. I’m so incredibly joyful for Muslim and South Asian people for getting to see things that are familiar to them in the pages of a book. And I for one enjoyed getting a little peek into that world.
Another thing that I loved about this book was the approach to romance it took. “But wait Tita, I thought you hated insta-love?” you might say. Yes, I do hate insta-love! But this isn’t insta-love. Rather, I feel like this book is an instance of insta-attraction plus forced proximity. It reminded me of all my favorite slow-burn fanfics in the best way possible. Fatima Ghazala and Zulfikar are thrown together by circumstance, but are both unsure of and unwilling to act on any attraction—even when they’ve already turned into feelings—until a much later time in the book. Of course, there’s the standard self-sacrificial moment that tears your heart out where you want the characters to be happy but also enjoy them angsting…
Honestly, the romance between Fatima Ghazala and Zulfikar was one of the best things about this book, and what, for me, ultimately made it memorable and heart-rending.
☕ Characters ☕
I fell in love with each and every one of Nafiza’s characters. From Fatima, who was always fierce and independent even before Ghazala’s fire manifest in her; to her sister Sunaina whose love and devotion for her sister wars with her inner desire to be her own woman; the Alif sisters, devoted and loyal friends; Bhavya, the maharajah’s sister, who struggles with freedom as a princess as well as being in love with Zulfikar. Each and every one of these characters is fleshed out, three-dimensional, and possesses their own foibles, conflicts, characteristics, and desires and end-goals.
Nafiza has stated previously that first and foremost, this is a book about women. Although there are male character POVs in this book (most notably Zulfikar and Aarush, the maharajah of Qirat), it is really through the POVs of the female characters that the story moves, and through which you see qualities like strength, resilience, and determination.
One of my favorite characters in this book was Bhavya, the princess of Qirat and Aarush’s younger sister. From a timid, shy young girl nursing an impossibly hopeless crush on Zulfikar, she grows into and owns her power and who she is as a princess of Qirat and as a woman. Some of that growth stems from a tragedy that ultimately changes her, but in the end, it showed that she was willing to make a difficult decision for the good of her kingdom. I don’t know if there are plans for a sequel or if The Candle and the Flame is a standalone, but one thing’s for sure: I’d love to see Bhavya again, hopefully in a leadership role!
☕ Overall ☕
The Candle and the Flame isn’t for everyone. But those who do decide to take this journey will be rewarded with a breathtakingly slow-burn romance, wonderfully three-dimensional female characters, and a magical, otherworldly city where all sorts of cultures and traditions, both mortal and otherwise, blend into one of the most beautiful and compelling literary melting pots I’ve ever read about.