The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza Azad
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Candle and the Flame tells the story of Fatima Ghazala, a human/ifrit young woman. The book opens with child Fatima being rescued by a dying ifrit woman, Ghazala, who transfers her fire (effectively her soul or consciousness) to Fatima to save her. Fatima is taken in by an adoptive family but her adoptive parents die in a later battle with chaotic djinn, and her adoptive older sister Sunaina becomes responsible for her. Fatima's relationship with Sunaina is not without its rough spots, although the sisters truly love one another. Through her work as a messenger, Fatima meets Firdaus, an elderly ifrit bookseller who is titled the Name Giver. Firdaus is/was Ghazala's father and recognizes his deceased daughter's fire in Fatima and takes her under his wing, providing lessons in history, literature, and language. But nothing is as simple as it seems and when Firdaus is murdered with a book that Fatima delivers to him, his death portends hard times ahead, including explanations to the ifrit Emir of Noor, who was friendly with Firdaus.
One of the riches of this book is the number of positive female friendships between Fatima and the three Alif sisters (hat tip to Alif the Unseen, Nafiza? ) Adila, Azizah, and Amirah, who are Fatima's friends and neighbors. Similarly, Fatima's relationship with her adoptive sister Sunaina, and adoptive grandmother Laali are well drawn and sometimes quite poignant.
While the scaffolding of this novel is Fatima Ghazala's story, the city in which she resides, Noor, is also at the heart of this story. Noor is a diverse city where humans, ifrit, and other djinn create a place of safety. We see Muslims, Hindus, and Han Chinese (several possible faiths) living cooperatively, in a sometimes delicate dance of co-existence. Though Muslim, Fatima and her friends joyously celebrate Deepavali (Diwali) with the Hindu community. The differing boundaries of faith seem to be respected rather than merely tolerated. The community is not idyllic, however, and frictions exist between the races. As a biracial character, we see the occasional discomfort Fatima Ghazala engenders in others, and how she must struggle to find her place, her purpose, and answers about her complex nature.
According to my paper ARC edition of this book, Scholastic intended this to be a Middle-Grade novel. I feel pretty firmly that it is not, however. The cultural vocabulary even with the glossary at the end of the book might be too much of a challenge for the average 7th to 8th grader. Additionally, the book doesn't have action throughout, one of the somewhat lamentable hallmarks of current Middle-Grade fantasy. I do feel that it is well suited to 9th-grade students and above since its exploration of cultural diversity and co-existence are vital messages to offer young people in the present day.
I've followed Nafiza Azad's Twitter and reviews on Goodreads for a while and it's been a delight to enjoy her debut novel.
I received an Advanced Reader Copy in exchange for an honest review.
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