We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal – with exclusive Q&A with Hafsah Faizal

The epic debut in the Sands of Arawiya Series!!

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

“An idle mind is the devil’s playground…”

As I heard about this book a year ago, I purposely took my time to read this slowly so I really could really immerse myself in the intricate world of Arawiya. What first drew me in was how the world was inspired by ancient Arabia and the story included a strong female character, djinn and ifrit – elements of an epic Arabian inspired tale. The world building in the first quarter of the book did take a bit of time as the world of Arawiya is complex and made up of 6 main lands or kingdoms or sectors that we learn about as we learn about our characters however it was still very engaging.
The way the author really described the landscape really brought back memories of my visit to Arabia as images of the Arabian desert and ancient Arabian villages came to life in my mind. It really triggered my imagination. The characters really came to life too and I kept picturing characters dressed as the cast from an Islamic history movie called “The Message” which is set in 6th Century Arabia. From the clothes to the housing to the Arabian food – the author did an amazing job in bringing everything to life – I actually wanted to go to Arawiya!!
The book is very clever and lyrical. There are multiple story lines that blend together so eloquently and I came to care for the characters we met – particularly Zafira and Nasir. 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 Sultan. Both have a lot at stake and both are legends of Arawiya.

“The first step in getting anywhere is believing you can…”

This is my book love for 2019 and it is only just released. For me, this book had everything from deep fantasy world building inspired by one of the most exotic places I have come to know to a journey of self-discovery, empowerment and courage. Epic plot twists that lured me deeper and deeper into the story and the way it ended was quite exciting – yes there is a cliffhanger I am really looking forward to but will definitely re-read the finished copy. I am so happy this book is written.
-Annie

First and foremost, a book by a Muslim author set in Arabia with kick-ass characters is already very special, and I completely get the hype around the book. For me, however, the beginning was a bit hard to get through. There was a lot of story building, and the only reason I was able to understand a lot of it was because of my prior knowledge of the Arabic language.
 
Once you get past the first few chapters it becomes much easier to read and immerse yourself in the world the story is set in. What I liked about it was obviously the fierce female protagonist and the very interesting world it was set in, and how the secrets were slowly revealed as you keep reading.
The ending seemed a little rushed, and cliche, but it ended on an interesting cliff hanger that definitely makes you want to get the next book in your hands ASAP!  And I also appreciate Hafsa for making it clear that there is no Muslim representation in the book, and that Arab is not equal to Muslim. I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next!!!
-Aida

Exclusive Blog Q&A with author of We Hunt the Flame, Hafsah Faizal

The names of your characters are very unique and beautiful. Is there a reason you chose certain names for them?
Yes! Each character name ties into that character’s personality and role in the story—most of the time, anyway. I put a lot of thought into each name, and I love that anyone who analyzes them will be rewarded with an extra treat! The names Zafira and Nasir are both variations on the word “victorious.” There’s something deeply satisfying about two people who seem wholly different being entwined in ways that aren’t obvious at first.

Who is your favourite character and why?
I can never answer this question, because I love Zafira and Nasir equally. I love Altair, too, the general who somehow became a main character without even having a point-of-view of his own! If I had to choose which character’s point-of-view I like best, however, I’d say Nasir, because we get to learn his feelings about Zafira, Altair, and the rest of the cast, and how drastically those views change as the story progresses.

What is your writing process?
I just write! I try not to pause for research and the like when I’m in the thick of it, saving those for before or after a writing session so as not to disrupt the flow. The process itself varies depending on my mood or the scene I’m writing. Sometimes, I have a clear image in my head that’s a breeze to get down. Other times, I’ll have to write a few different versions to see which fits the scene best. One thing I’ve learned: trust the characters. They know what they want, and if it’s not clear at first, I can usually uncover their motives and desires after a few edits!

Where do you go for inspiration and motivation?
Pinterest! Admittedly, finding anything Middle Eastern is hard because it’s so often mixed with South Asia, but there’s always something! For motivation… it depends. Sometimes, when I’m in a rut, I just need to watch an Assassin’s Creed game trailer. Other times, I just need to work on something else, usually design projects.

Why did you choose ancient Arabia or an Arabian nights theme for your debut novel?
This is a long story, but I never set out to write a story inspired by the world of ancient Arabia. We Hunt the Flame started off as a fantasy set in a eurocentric world, but while drafting, I had a nagging sense of something being off, but I couldn’t figure out what. After about thirty-thousand words, I stopped to craft the world’s map when it hit me: the structure of my world matched that of the Mediterranean. Why not go further south—to the world of Arabia—and set the story in a place more familiar to me? It’s a place so often demonized and sometimes exoticized, and I had the chance to make a difference. The rest, as they say, is history!

From initial idea to draft to manuscript to publication, how long did “We Hunt the Flame” take you to write?
I’m not sure when the initial idea for the story occurred, but between the time I started writing We Hunt the Flame until its publication on May 14th, 2019, it took roughly six years. It was going to be my last attempt at publication, so I took it less seriously than I did my other manuscripts. Once I finished the first draft, I became more dedicated to it—between polishing the draft, querying, and auction, it took around six months! Which is the perfect analogy to publishing: things can move excruciatingly slow one moment, and lightning quick the next.

I love the map of Arawiya, I actually printed it and it’s hanging on my desk at work (yes I know, I’m a nerd) I am curious to know how you come up with the landscape/map of Arawiya, did you design it and mark everything yourself or did you have a ‘bookish cartographer’ on hand?
Oh gosh, I adore the map! Virginia Allyn is the mastermind behind the stunning work of art. As I said, I put together a sketch of the world early on. It was very bare bones, with defined borders and locations. When the time came, I sent that sketch, symbolism, and as many details as I could to Virginia, who turned it around with the amazing map we have now. Funny thing, back when being published was a dream I didn’t fully believe in, I used to hoard bookish maps and humor myself that I would have a map half as beautiful one day. Dreams do come true!

What is the best piece of advice you received during your writing journey and what would you pass onto other aspiring writers?
You can’t edit what isn’t there.
I know, it’s such an obvious thing, but when you’re drafting, it’s so easy to feel like the words you’re writing aren’t good enough. It’s easy to get caught up on editing the same passages over and over again, which is hindering, and tends to slow me down drastically, when instead, I could be finishing a draft and getting a better idea of what needs editing. I’m still learning to “just write,” so if you’ve mastered this, you’re a pro already!

Visit her website for more on ‘We Hunt the Flame’ and updates from: Hafsah Faizal

Special thanks to Pan Macmillan Publishers for sending us an advanced review copy of this book and for organising our exclusive blog Q&A with the amazing Hafsah Faizal.

ARC read along + Blog Review + Q&A
compiled by Annie and Aida
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Echantee by Gita Trelease: Blog Tour and Exclusive Q&A

Paris in 1789 is a labyrinth of twisted streets, filled with beggars, thieves, revolutionaries—and magicians…

When smallpox kills her parents, Camille Durbonne must find a way to provide for her frail, naive sister while managing her volatile brother. Relying on petty magic—la magie ordinaire—Camille painstakingly transforms scraps of metal into money to buy the food and medicine they need. But when the coins won’t hold their shape and her brother disappears with the family’s savings, Camille must pursue a richer, more dangerous mark: the glittering court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

With dark magic forbidden by her mother, Camille transforms herself into the ‘Baroness de la Fontaine’ and is swept up into life at the Palace of Versailles, where aristocrats both fear and hunger for la magie. There, she gambles at cards, desperate to have enough to keep herself and her sister safe. Yet the longer she stays at court, the more difficult it becomes to reconcile her resentment of the nobles with the enchantments of Versailles. And when she returns to Paris, Camille meets a handsome young balloonist—who dares her to hope that love and liberty may both be possible.

But la magie has its costs. And when Camille loses control of her secrets, the game she’s playing turns deadly. Then revolution erupts, and she must choose—love or loyalty, democracy or aristocracy, freedom or magic—before Paris burns.

Although a detailed beginning, this is a debut that really engrosses you and builds to a fast paced ending.. Perfect for readers who enjoy magically infused historical fiction. I believe if you liked “The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern, you will enjoy this.


Exclusive Q&A with author Gita Trelease

Congratulations on your debut novel “Enchantee”!! 1789 – France: this is a very interesting time and place setting. What moved you to write a story that was based here?
Thank you! I’m drawn to moments in history that I think of as “threshold” moments, and the French Revolution is one of those. The decadent world of the French aristocracy is dying and a new world, shaped by new and sometimes terrifying ideas, is struggling to come into being. It’s a time of great turmoil and change, and that’s very appealing to me as a writer. The French Revolution is also a time when what seems to be right might not actually be right, and I wanted the opportunity to explore complexity.

The family dynamic in this story: Camille, Sophie and Alain (the family we meet in the beginning) is quite interesting, were these characters inspired by a family you knew? Who or what was your inspiration for your characters, particularly Camille and her personality?
There wasn’t any direct inspiration, but like Camille’s Maman, my own mother died when I was fairly young. I think it forced me to become independent very quickly and to assume more responsibility for myself than I was ready for, though for me it was nothing like the pressure her parents’ deaths puts on Camille. Because of that enormous pressure, Camille makes a lot of mistakes—I think that can happen to all of us. I didn’t want to write a “perfect” heroine. She’s a bit like me in other ways, too, though I didn’t realize that when I was writing the book: resourceful but also a bit impetuous. Which is a better trait for a character in a novel than in real life! As for Camille’s siblings, Sophie and Alain, they’re probably a mix of all sorts of experiences I’ve had and people that I’ve met. My only sibling is my younger brother and thankfully he is nothing like Alain!

From having your first idea to first draft, edits to publication – how long did it take for you to get to this point? Was this book always going to be called “Enchantee”?
From the first glimmerings of the idea in the summer of 2014—when the story revolved around the rescue of Marie Antoinette by balloon!—the working title has always been Enchantée. I assumed it would change if I sold the book, because I worried about a French title, but my team all liked it. I started writing the book in January of 2015, and after at least seven drafts, I queried a handful of agents on Bastille Day, July 14, 2017. After that, everything went very quickly: I got several offers of representation in the following weeks and after a whirlwind revision at the
end of September, the book sold at auction in October.

Some authors go to a writer’s retreat to focus on their writing, did you have a special place you retreated to whilst writing “Enchantee”? (Perhaps Paris for inspiration?)
I wish I could have written all of it in Paris! I was lucky enough, though, to visit in the summer of 2015, and the time I spent researching at the Musée Carnavalet (the collection contains artefacts from the French Revolution), strolling through Paris, and wandering the halls and gardens of the Palace of Versailles was incredibly inspiring. I wrote a lot of Enchantée in our apartment in a boys’ dormitory at a boarding school where my husband is a teacher—not a particularly quiet place! We own an old farm house on the coast of Maine that we’ve been fixing up and a little shed I have there is my favorite place to write. It’s very peaceful and I do a lot of absolutely necessary daydreaming there.

When you are not writing or reading, what would you be doing?
I love to be outdoors, especially by the ocean, and I love to take photographs, but if I could do anything, I’d be traveling and exploring new places.

Quick Questions

Ultimate Holiday Destination: Morocco
Guilty pleasure dessert: Pomegranate Pavlova
When I was a child, I wanted to be a ____spy_____ when I grew up.
Famous last words: “I think I know a shortcut we can try…”

With special thanks to Pan Macmillan Australia Publishers for having Read3r’z Re-Vu on board as part of the Echantee Blog Tour, for co-ordinating the interview and for sending a review copy of this book.
-Annie

 

Thief’s Cunning by Sarah Ahiers

Family before family

I finally read the highly anticipated sequel to the epic Assassin’s Heart and oh my what a read!!!

We are back with our protagonist Allegra who has always had to look over her shoulder. As the niece of the infamous assassin Lea Saldana, Allegra is used to hiding from people who want her dead. Once the strongest clipper family in the Kingdom of Lovero, the Saldanas are now the most hunted. Their number one enemy is the Da Vias, whose thirst for retaliation is almost two decades in the making. But lately Allegra’s getting fed up with everything being kept from her—including her parents’ identity. When she finally learns the truth about her family, her world is turned upside down. Feeling betrayed by the people she trusted the most, Allegra turns to Nev, a Traveler boy whose presence makes her feel alive but getting caught up in his world has consequences Allegra never saw coming.

he mythology and the different gods we learn about in this book are so interesting. These gods are frightening, powerful, and amazing. I honestly would love more books just to meet more gods and learn more about them

Although it’s been about a year since I read the first book, I found I was able to really get into this book and follow on with the story without any difficulty. The previous story and characters really came to life. I love the mythology that flows through this book, it so interesting. I would have loved to read more about the gods and myth in these books so I hope there is a spin off or a prequel to this series.

This story however is quite different to the first one but I liked both books for different reasons. The first I loved for the action, mystery, intrigue, mythology and magic. This one, yes I loved for those reasons however the journey to learn the truth of Allegra’s true identity was really captivating. It was a very easy and fast paced read and action in every chapter – always something happening!! I have to say, there were times I got frustrated with Allegra as she had a tendency to jump to conclusions too quickly and half the time she was wrong but I guess that’s what furthered the plot and held my attention to then very end.. and yes.. that was an epic ending.

This is highly recommended to those who enjoy YA fantasy fiction.

Special thanks to Harlequin Publishers for sending me a review copy of this book.
-Annie

Circle of Shadows by Evelyn Skye

Work hard… Mischief harder…

From the writer of The Crown’s Game and The Crown’s Fate comes an exciting new fantasy series full of magic, intrigue, betrayal and action!!!

Sora can move as silently as a ghost and hurl throwing stars with lethal accuracy. Her gemina, Daemon, can win any physical fight blindfolded and with an arm tied around his back. They are apprentice warriors of the Society of Taigas—marked by the gods to be trained in magic and the fighting arts to protect the kingdom of Kichona.  As their graduation approaches, Sora and Daemon look forward to proving themselves worthy of belonging in the elite group—but in a kingdom free of violence since the Blood Rift Rebellion many years ago, it’s been difficult to make their mark. So when the pair encounter a strange camp of mysterious soldiers while on a standard scouting mission, they decide the only thing to do to help their kingdom is to infiltrate the group. Taking this risk will change Sora’s life forever—and lead her on a mission of deception that may fool everyone she’s ever loved.

This was interesting book, definitely not what I expect or got used to with this amazing author from her previous books. If like me, you’ve read “The Crown’s Game” and “The Crown’s Fate” cast your mind away from that duology if you wish to tap into this new series. This is very different. It’s a whole new world, whole new playing field.. I enjoyed the cultural fusion in this book that reminded me of Asian and European legends and tales. Although the book did take some time to engage me in the beginning due to slow plot development and world building, the twists that popped up throughout the story and the interesting characters held my attention to the end. The friendship between our two main characters was something I adored so much and there were moments throughout the book that touched my heart. I found this book is something you need to read without any distraction. The world building is detailed and the multiple perspectives can confuse you if you’re not 100% focused on the story. I have faith in this series so I am definitely invested and looking forward to the sequel now.

Special thanks to Harper Collins publishers for sending me a review copy of this book.
-Annie

A Curse of Ash and Embers by Jo Spurrier

A dead witch. A bitter curse. A battle of magic.

Some people knit socks by the fire at night – Gyssha Blackbone made monsters. But the witch is dead now, and somehow it’s Elodie’s job to clean up the mess. When she was hired at Black Oak Cottage, Elodie had no idea she’d find herself working for a witch; and her acid-tongued new mistress, Aleida, was not expecting a housemaid to turn up on her doorstep. Gyssha’s final curse left Aleida practically dead on her feet and now, with monsters roaming the woods, a demonic tree lurking in the orchard and an angry warlock demanding repayment of a debt, Aleida needs Elodie’s help and no matter what the old witch throws at her, to Elodie it’s still better than going back home. – the very place she is emotionally abused by her stepfather, unsupported by her mother and denied an education so much she is illiterate… Regardless, Elodie is determined to make this work…

A story of witches – ancient curses – folklore – strong women.. everything I like in a fantasy novel!!!

I really enjoyed this story, with the start making me feel incredibly frustrated with some of the characters – particularly Elodie’s stepfather, the emotional reaction I felt early on told me to strap on, I’m in for a wild ride.. and I was.. I loved how the story grew as we followed a confused character because as the story unfolded for us it unfolded for Elodie and we learnt things along the way – the secrets, Elodie’s real purpose in being hired.. Some parts were quite creepy but it sent me into a world I least expected. An easy read you can get through pretty quickly, immersive and intriguing.

Special thanks to Harper Voyager Publishers for sending me a review copy of this book.
-Annie

Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor

Laini Taylor returns with the sequel to the wonderful Strange the Dreamer with this gem!!!

If you haven’t read Strange the Dreamer yet, please do not read this review as it may contain spoilers…

Sarai has lived and breathed nightmares since she was six years old.

She believed she knew every horror and was beyond surprise.

She was wrong.

In the wake of tragedy, neither Lazlo nor Sarai are who they were before. One a god, the other a ghost, they struggle to grasp the new boundaries of their selves as dark-minded Minya holds them hostage, intent on vengeance against Weep. Lazlo faces an unthinkable choice—save the woman he loves, or everyone else?—while Sarai feels more helpless than ever. But is she? Sometimes, only the direst need can teach us our own depths, and Sarai, the Muse of Nightmares, has not yet discovered what she’s capable of. Love and hate, revenge and redemption, destruction and salvation all clash in this great sequel to Strange the Dreamer!!!

I love this book so much. It’s absolutely everything I hoped for and much more. Laini Taylor weaves a magical story about love, found family and redemption. It has so many great themes and characters that have dimension. I am also really happy about the wonderful universe.
It’s amazing!!!

-NJ

Longbourn: Dragon Entail: A Pride and Prejudice Variation by Maria Grace

This is the sequel to Book 1: Pemberley: Mr Darcy’s Dragon

In this story, Darcy thought his problems were over when Pemberley hatched and successfully imprinted on humans. But baby dragons prove far more difficult than any dragon lore prepared him for. Only Elizabeth Bennet’s notes offer him any help. Elizabeth, though, has problems of her own. After the Bennet family dragon sent Pemberley away, life at Longbourn was supposed to return to normal… or so they thought..

Dragons.. Dragons and more Dragons..

Misunderstandings got cleared up – Collins got threatened by quite a few dragons in “Longbourn: Dragon Entail”. I am so hoping that they follow through in the next book. Collins is still a massive pain in the arse – please let him get eaten.

Meanwhile, Pemberley is growing up, she’s even started throwing a couple of tantrums.

A great Jane Austen meets Anne McCaffrey’s Dragon Riders of Pern.  A must read for fans of Pride and Prejudice and those who love alternate stories and retellings..

-Meredith