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.
Thank you to Macmillan’s Children Books for the review copy. I can confirm all thoughts and opinions are my own. Please note this review will contain spoilers for book one.
“We’re a zumra. We hunted the flame together, found the light in the darkness, but we are far from done, laa? Now we unleash it. We free the stars, shatter the darkness holding us captive, and return the world to the splendour it once was.”
This, ladies and gentleman, this is how you write a sequel. I had the highest expectations for We Free the Stars after loving We Hunt the Flame but it took every single one of them and knocked them out of the park. The battle on Sharr may be over but the war to defend Arawiya is just beginning. Zafira, Narsir & Kifah are headed to Sultan’s Keep determined to restore the hearts to each caliphate and return magic to the kingdom. But the Lion is hot on their heels, and with Altair as a prisoner knows the Zumra’s loyalties will be tied between trying to rescue their friend and completing their goal. Relationships will be tested, sacrifices will be made and old faces will make a surprising return, but it will take the Zumra working as one if they are to defeat the Lion and return magic to Arawiya.
One of the big selling points of this series for me are the characters. We keep the three main POV’s from book one:
Zafira is struggling, struggling with her feelings for Nasir and the near constant battle she must fight to keep herself from falling under the Jarawat’s spell after binding herself to it at the end of book one. She is still the resilient girl we know and love, but in a world without the Arz, where she no longer needs to be the infamous Demenhune hunter, is no longer sure of her worth. She questions her role in this new world, as well as in the Zumra. But Zafira is the strongest of them all, whether she knows it or not, and their plan to defeat the Lion cannot work without her.
Nasir is still devastated from the events of Sharr, finding out Altair was his half brother and then having to leave him in the hands of the Lion has left a heavy toll on him. He finds it hard to instil the trust and faith in himself that Altair did, and with still struggling to control his new magic, is unsure if he will be able to defeat the Lion when the time comes. His relationship with Zafira is something he struggles with, not used to having feelings, let alone speaking them aloud. He will need to open himself up, more than he ever has before if he is to bring magic back to his country and keep the woman he loves by his side.
Altair, my sweet sweet boy. He still can’t quite believe that his friends left him in the hands of the Lion, and the more time he spends with his father, the more he finds himself almost sympathising with him. As his father takes him more and more into his confidence Altair has a decision to make, side with his father and betray his Zumra, or try and play a game that will more than likely end in his death.
Though Kifah doesn’t get a POV we still learn a lot about her history, and whether she knows it or not she is the glue that holds the Zumra together. But her loyalties become tied when her Caliph requests her return, meaning abandoning her friends and their goal. We also get introduced who a whole host of new characters as well as some of my favourites from book one re-appearing Afya, Zafiras sister and Yasmine her best friend. Faizal writes characters that are incredibly realistic, you will have no issue relating to and bonding with them, and even the smallest character has a part to play in the story.
Faizal has a writing style that I just loose myself in, lush and beautifully descriptive, I don’t think I could ever get bored of reading it. We Free the Stars was one of those books that I desperately wanted to finish and at the same time never wanted to end. The plot wasn’t rushed, we got the perfect balance between the everyday kind of scenes as well as the battles (and let me tell you they were epic.) It’s a special author that get’s that balance right, but if I’m being honest I could read a whole book of the Zumra just going about their everyday lives and never get bored. I loved the slow scenes, the scenes where they were travelling or deciding their plan to defeat the Lion, the interactions between all the characters make these really special and I couldn’t get enough of their dynamic. The action scenes however had me on the edge of my seat, white knuckled. I was so unsure whether I would get the happy ending I wanted and the characters deserved, so I wont lie when I say I was a nervous wreck reading them.
If you know me then you know I am a sucker for anything folklore/cultural based and I couldn’t get enough of the Arabian culture that Faizal dived into with this series. She really takes us on a deep dive of Arawiya in this book. Her world building is honestly astounding and I loved travelling through the different Caliphates with the Zumra and learning about the different races that live there and their traditions. The world and characters are so well imagined, so real that they simply bleed off the page and you find yourself right there along side them both in the quiet scenes and the action filled ones.
The romance, hoo boy the romance. I’m not sure ‘swoon’ covers it, but I swooned nonetheless. I loved the relationship between Nasir and Zafira from the first book ( enemies to lovers suckers listen up) and the progression in this book was brilliantly written. They both hold a power over the other, knowing each others feelings but never being willing to act on it, or speak it a loud. There was sooo much angst, honestly the rigmarole of emotions this book took me on was crazy, but I just couldn’t get enough of them together and their scenes were steamy, as well as being sweet. They’re both afraid of their feelings, Nasir not sure he deserves to love and be loved that deeply, and Zafira afraid of loosing someone she cared that much for after seeing her mother react to her fathers death. While romance does play a large part in the plot, Faizal spends the same amount of time building up the non-romantic relationships, the ones between the Zumra who are almost like a family to each other, Zafiras with Afya and Yasmine as well as Nasir and Altair after finding out they were brothers in book one. I loved seeing these relationships getting enough focus to make us as invested in them as the romance, if not more.
To say this is a debut series is just astounding, I cannot find one fault with it. If you love a lush and flowing writing style, world building to die for, a fantastic bunch of characters and enemies to lovers that has some steamy scenes, then I can’t recommend this series more. I would say that without a doubt I will pick up anything else the author writes. My second 5* read of the year and one I know without a doubt will make my top books of the year.