Title: We Free the Stars
Series: Sands of Arawiya #2
Author: Hafsah Faizal
Genre: YA, Fantasy
Published: January 19th, 2021 (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux)
Synopsis: The battle on Sharr is over. The dark forest has fallen. Altair may be captive, but Zafira, Nasir, and Kifah are bound for Sultan’s Keep, determined to finish the plan he set in motion: restoring the hearts of the Sisters of Old to the minarets of each caliphate, and finally returning magic to all of Arawiya. But they are low on resources and allies alike, and the kingdom teems with fear of the Lion of the Night’s return.
As the zumra plots to overthrow the kingdom’s darkest threat, Nasir fights to command the magic in his blood. He must learn to hone his power into a weapon, to wield not only against the Lion but against his father, trapped under the Lion’s control. Zafira battles a very different darkness festering in her through her bond with the Jawarat—a darkness that hums with voices, pushing her to the brink of her sanity and to the edge of a chaos she dare not unleash. In spite of the darkness enclosing ever faster, Nasir and Zafira find themselves falling into a love they can’t stand to lose…but time is running out to achieve their ends, and if order is to be restored, drastic sacrifices will have to be made.
Zafira, Nasir and Kifah have survived the battle on Sharr. Heavy with the guilt of having to leave Altair a captive of the Lion of the Night, are heading for Sultan’s Keep with four of the hearts of the Sisters of Old to restore magic to Arawiya. The Arz is gone, and the various issues that plagued the caliphates are starting to wane – but with it, the curse that bound the inhabitants of Sharr to the island has fallen too and the Lion is free to return and wreak his vengeance. The zumra is on the path to completing the final steps in Altair’s plan, but each of them is contending with other threats too. Nasir struggles with his magic, knowing that he will need to use it not only against the Lion, but also to free his father who has been under the Lion’s control all these years. Zafira’s battle is within her own mind – bound to the Jawarat, she quickly realizes that it has a mind of its own and will not hesitate to use her as a conduit to unleash its power.
“We’re not falling apart. We hunted the flame on Sharr, set free the stars across the skies, but it was only ever the dawn of our zumra. Now we make sure that light doesn’t go out. Forever. Together.”
This was so good! I can definitely understand why there was such a long gap between this book and the first, because every piece of this story was perfect. The narration and world-building were undoubtedly the best parts and Arawiya was truly brought to life in the final stretch of this adventure. Where I struggled a little to get through the first book, I had no issues with this one – I think it’s just a matter of being in the right mood for a more complex fantasy like this one. The rapid pace definitely helped too, accentuating the tense mood of the plot, and despite the fact that there was so much going on at every point in the story, it just fit together perfectly like a puzzle, especially towards the end when it just clicked and it was so clear all of a sudden where the story was going.
I know that Zafira is supposed to be the first of the three central characters here, but my favourite continued to be Nasir, with surprisingly, Altair in second. Both of them had excellent character arcs in this book. With Altair, there were moments where it was really hard to tell what he was up to and whose side he was on as he remained a prisoner of the Lion. Nasir, in my opinion has had the largest character growth over the course of the story and it really shows here in how different he is from the hashashin with a tortured soul we were first introduced to with the words “People died because he lived”. I liked Zafira’s arc much better in this book too, and her struggle with the Jawarat, how it was playing with her sanity, and coming to terms with the things it had influenced her to do were all extremely well written. All in all, the zumra continued to be amazing and I’m really going to miss these characters.
I never thought I’d actually ever say this, and it’s not one of my favourite things, especially in fantasy, but the slow burn romance between Nasir and Zafira was amazingly written! From the dialog, there were times I felt like I was reading The Wrath and the Dawn again, and there is literally no higher praise I can give this. There is a lot of back and forth and both of them dragging their heels on the matter, but that is just so typical of their characters and manages to make it even better.
The only thing I will say is that this book could have been condensed by atleast a 100 pages or so. While I love the way it was narrated, it did feel like a few parts here and there were taking too long to get through and I just wanted to get to the point.
Happily ever afters may be a cliched manner to end a story, but it’s a cliche for a reason. Besides, I wasn’t expecting one for this book, which made it all that much better. I am thoroughly satisfied with how things ended and I’m really happy I convinced myself to continue with this series or I would have missed out on such a good read! I would highly recommend this beautifully written duology for all fantasy fans.
“I once loved, he had inked on his wrist. I will again, he inked on the other. He opened his palm and a plume of shadow curled to life. It was a reminder: People lived because he did.”
Have you read this book? Let me know in the comments below!
Other reviews in this series: