Review: The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza Azad

Review: The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza Azad

‘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.’

The Candle and the Flame gave me the worst book hangover I’ve had in ages! I really didn’t want the book to end and I desperately hope that there are going to be more books set in this world. The description of the city and the lives of those who live in it are painted so vividly that it’s impossible not to envision the setting and surroundings in rich colour, textures, sights and sounds simply leaping from the page. It makes it all the more difficult to leave the world behind and I was reluctant to read the last few pages, knowing that the story was at an end and I would have to leave Noor.

In the world of The Candle and the Flame, humans live alongside different species of djinn, some of which have positive intentions and others that are set to creating chaos. The majority of these need to be Named to cross into the human world from their plane of existence, a process that gives them a physical, human, form. To take away their Name is to unbind them and send them back – or worse. The concept of Naming and how it’s done is one of the things that I loved most about the story. The drawing together of the different things that have come to define the person being Named, seeing their memories and what has led them to become what the pieces of their Name brand them as, is described as a beautifully tangible process, from the heat of the fire to the fitting together of the fragments and settling of the Name. I read a lot of fantasy novels that involve magical processes, and this one is up there with my all-time favourites.

Fatima is an intelligent and compassionate lead, unafraid to exert her independence and correct those who attempt to order her around or make unfounded assumptions about her. Her devotion to those around her and her selflessness both give her a strength that guides her, even though they sometimes lead to her making decisions that put her at risk. She seems slightly out of phase with the world, particularly as she is drawn into that of the Ifrit, and at certain points in the narrative it’s characters such as the Alif sisters who help to keep her grounded and human. I loved the family interactions in this novel, particularly because they are often between found family and demonstrate some of the best of human nature’s capacity to care for others. Fatima’s interaction with Zulfikar is another aspect that draws out more of her than she may be willing to share with others, and it is often in these scenes that she seems the most animated and most herself, rather than what she may believe she has to be.

Ultimately, it’s the women in the novel who drive the story, from Ghazala’s initial choice in its opening pages, to the ladies of the palace who are not quite what the men of the city believe them to be. Many of them are consistently undervalued by the men in their lives, who may love and respect them, yet tend not to actually see the full extent of who these women are, refusing to believe that they are as intelligent and independent as they genuinely are. I absolutely adore Bhavya and Aruna, both of whom are severely underestimated by their immediate family, and, in a some respects, by themselves and the reader in the opening stages of the story. Bhavya’s journey is perhaps one of the most significant in the story, not being directly involved with the more magical elements, but with her own inner struggle to identify who she is, what she is capable of, and what she truly wants for her life.

The Candle and the Flame is out from Scholastic Press on May 14th! It’s one of my favourite reads this year and I hope you love it as much as I did!

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