The Candle and the Flame – Nafiza Azad

Title: The Candle and the Flame
Author: Nafiza Azad
Genre: YA, Fantasy
: May 14th, 2019 (Scholastic)

: 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.

A huge thank you to I Read YA and Scholastic for shipping me an ARC of this book since I couldn’t pick one up at BookCon earlier this month!

Fatima is one of the only three survivors from the day the Shayateen slaughtered the people of Noor. Years later, Noor is thriving once more as an important city along the Silk Route, where humans and Ifrit djinn live side by side. But when one of the most powerful Ifrit dies, one Fatima is well acquainted with, it changes her and she enters a whole new world with a purpose far greater than anything she imagined.

I came across this book initially because I was searching for books with this very specific setting (I was on fantasy world withdrawal from just having finished another series – The Dark Caravan Cycle), and the minute I found this, I knew it would one that I would enjoy. And I was totally right – this book was everything I wanted it to be and so much more! The world-building was probably my favourite part – it was rich in detail and made it so easy to imagine. Noor is portrayed as a multicultural city where many faiths and cultures coexist peacefully – and this level of thought put into a setting is sadly enough, a first for me in fantasy. The characters were no less amazing, and it’s quite obvious just how much thought has gone into each of their personalities. The human characters are just as fascinating as their djinn counterparts, and the political intrigue adds an interesting twist to the story. And can we just take a minute to appreciate that beautiful cover?

What’s even more impressive is that Azad has managed to create a world with so much depth alongside a reasonably complex plot all in one standalone novel. While the plot itself was quite interesting and well thought out, this story is largely character focussed. More to the point, it largely revolves around strong female characters stepping up and taking charge of their own lives, or as the author put it, “women being women in the most fantastic ways possible” – Princess Bhavya’s arc in particular was an amazing representation of this. I also really liked how the major change that Fatima goes through following that one incident is portrayed, and how her personality changes with it. Even the more minor female characters like the Alif sisters and the Queen Aruna were very well written.

I have to also mention that I really enjoyed the more subtle romance in this story – it greatly takes a backseat to the plot at times, but is still brewing, a silent presence while everything falls into place. It was a nice change of pace from some recent fantasy reads, where the romance more or less ends up taking over the story .

The only aspect of this book that I felt could have been done better was the various cultural references. As someone who is quite familiar with the various cultures this story has drawn influence from, I did not really have any problems keeping up, but for someone new to it, it might get quite confusing. However, fully understanding the references is just to add another layer to the setting, and the magic of Noor is just as delightful without it.

Overall, this was a wonderful debut novel from Nafiza Azad! This was seriously the type of book I had no idea I was waiting for. While not particularly fast-paced or action-packed, the beauty of this story is in the details, especially how much attention is given to developing plot points and characters. A must read for fantasy fans!

Have you read this book or do you plan to? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!


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