Review: The Candle and the Flame

Title: The Candle and the Flame
Author: Nafiza Azad
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 391
Publisher: Scholastic
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: Available now

Summary: 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.

Review: (Note: This book includes references to massacres and brief incidents of sexual harassment and stalking.)

It is always a delight to finish a debut author’s novel and be excited for their future. Nafiza Azad’s THE CANDLE AND THE FLAME is a richly detailed and entertaining novel centered on Fatima, a human girl who gets swept up into court politics and otherworldly battles when she inherits the power of naming. Fatima’s struggles with identity, morality, monsterhood, family, love, and power are woven throughout the novel and reinforced through other character’s viewpoints.

Fatima and the other women in THE CANDLE AND THE FLAME—particularly Sunaina and Bhavya—were great characters. I loved how different the female characters were from each other and how significant their actions were to the various plots throughout the novel. It was refreshing to have them all be distinct characters, sometimes at odds with one another, but frequently uniting in order to face down the obstacles in their paths. In contrast, only Zulfikar and Aarush felt developed on the men’s side. The romance between Fatima and Zulfikar wasn’t to my tastes, but Azad’s skill is such that I believed they cared for each other anyway, and I did end up hoping they would have a happy ending.  The villains (both men and women) weren’t all that interesting despite the threat they posed, and I wish they had been given the depth that other characters had.

The city of Noor is a fantastic setting. So many other fantasy novels try to hit the “bustling multicultural trade city” vibe and end up falling short, but Noor was practically a character of its own. There is no question it is a city built by and populated with people of different nationalities, ethnicities, and faiths. From Muslim calls to prayer and Hindu holidays, from food like wagashi to kunafeh to gulab jamun, Noor is an amalgamation of distinct people, both human and djinn.

The most significant complaint I have regarding THE CANDLE AND THE FLAME is uneven pacing. It is a character-driven story, no doubt, but there were significant chunks in the beginning and middle of the book that felt meandering. I wish Azad had spent more time detailing the rebels and the conspiracy, because once everything came to a head, it happened so quickly that I felt as if the book had rushed from one significant event to another with little time to process and understand the ramifications of what had happened.

Recommendation: Get it soon. THE CANDLE AND THE FLAME is a solid debut, and Nafiza Azad has created a rich fantasy world populated with compelling characters and interesting magic and history. While there are some pacing problems, the female characters are fantastic. I’m definitely interested in reading Azad’s future works.