~ 3 stars ~
A really solid book. There were of course things that weren't my favorite, but I do think that this was enjoyable for the most part, if nothing else, there is that.
Zafira bint Iskandar a huntress, known as The Hunter, as she keeps her identity a secret due to the prejudices against women in her caliphate, is the only person able to navigate the Arz, the evil forest surrounding the land, and hunt for food for her people, who would otherwise starve due to the climate of that area. But if her identity as a woman is exposed, she fears that she would be targeted or her accomplishments disregarded.
The Kingdom of Arawiya, inspired by ancient Arabia, has fallen to a curse, when the ruling sisters, who I believe are sorceresses of some sort, disappear. Each caliphate has a different curse. One day, after a trip in the Arz, Zafira gets intercepted by the Sultan's assassin's, who claim the Sultan requests a meeting, and they are there to take her. She leads them into the Arz, and runs away.
That day, she is recruited by a witch who claims that she could be able to restore magic to the lands of Arawiya, if she embarks on a journey, to retrieve the Jawarat, which is in the heart of the Sharr. In her journey, she crosses paths with Nasir, who is on that same journey, but with different motives.
Nasir Ghameq, a prince, the son of the Sultan, is a trained Hashashin (assassin) who eliminates his father's enemies, or anyone that would dare rise against his rule and the unjust rules that he has set. He is sent on that same journey to follow the Hunter and then, once the Hunter finds the Jawarat, to kill him, and give that treasure to his father.
But when things start to go off track, Zafira and Nasir, along with Nasir's companion, Altair, and Benyamin and Kifah, two other travelers they come across, end up teaming up.
~ The Plot ~
The story is told from both Zafira and Nasir's POV. It is pretty tropey and predictable in certain areas to be honest. Not much caught me off guard, and at times I felt as if it was following a certain formula, not to mention, it took me a bit of time to push past the beginning. But overall, I thought it was enjoyable once things took off. It was interesting and the story is one who's potential I am interested in.
~ The Worldbuilding ~
It was good! I do wish there was a bit more, but I did think that it did take it's time to build this world. It was especially interesting that it is Arabian, which is not something I have read before. Plus the twist of magic, which I do hope it takes more time in the next book developing that aspect of things.
~ The Writing ~
I liked the style. It is balanced in all aspects in which I consider essential to writing. It didn't overdo it with the flourish, but it also wasn't dull. I have no complains in those terms.
BUT, the Arabic. Oh my God, that aspect killed me. For two reasons.
One, there are no footnotes. I cannot stress this enough, if you are incorporating a language that is not in the one you are writing the story in, add footnotes where you add a translation the first time that word is mentioned. It's not like the majority of the people reading the book are Arabic speakers. While the glossary and pronunciation guide on Faizsal's website was very helpful, if that was what they were going for, and they didn't want to add footnotes, the bare minimum would have been to add that guide in the back of the book. The online version is not accessible to everyone and it's existence in general is not known to everyone who reads the book.
Second, while I talk about how annoying it may be for someone who doesn't speak that language, I do, and even I didn't know some of the words. I am fluent in Arabic, and I don't think this is a matter of dialect difference. At least I don't think so.
Words were used incorrectly. And I don't mean to nitpick, or bash the author, that is never my intent, I'm pretty sure this is own voices, but that is something that hindered my enjoyment.
~ The Characters ~
Not my favorite cast of characters to be honest, and it took me way too long to care, and even by the end, I was still indifferent to a lot of them, but they were solid
She's an okay protagonist. Strong, determined, and most importantly it doesn't stress that she isn't like other girls, which, just the fact that I consider that a positive, really shows you how low the bar was.
I do hope we get more depth from her in the next book and see her opening up a little more to others, because her character does kind of lack.
He emits a lot of angst and is described as good looking. Which makes him the perfect YA love interest. Angst and a perfect face are the only two requirements needed and he checks both off.
Nasir is chained to the commands of his father. But he opposes all in which the Sultan stands for, and is someone that has good intentions and hopes when it comes down to it, that he is unable to fulfil or express. He is presented as rather stoic and doesn't let people in. He is very strategic with the way he carries himself and what he gives away.
I didn't connect with him as much as Zafira, and he felt stereotypical, but I do really want to see development on his part and see if that aspect is dealt with correctly.
Unpopular opinion, but I didn't like him. He was too cocky and I was annoyed at him whenever he spoke. Plus I didn't care about him. The persona he put on was not for me. Comedic reliefs can either be done really well, or they can unfortunately fall short.
Didn't care about him either, but he's not a bad character, I think he is okay. He's supposed to be more or less the mom of the group and the voice of reason and wisdom. He has a purpose.
But he was a side character, that was...a side character. I've always gravitated towards the side characters, but this is an instance where I can say that wasn't really the case.
She has a lot of potential and a lot can be done with her character. I hope she is developed well.
I think I lost all faith in humanity when I realized that one of the villains' last name literally translates to Dark or Darkness. And Nasir, his son, who people call the Prince of Death and is an assassin, also has that same last name, so my disappointment applies there too. It's a bit on the nose, ain't it?
That ending left me really excited to see what her character will bring to the table. All throughout the book we see her as the best friend, but the end has a lot of the potential to elevate her character.
"I hate to say it, I hope I don't sound ridiculous, I don't know who this man is. I mean he could be walking down the street, and I wouldn't know a thing. Sorry to this man." -Keke Palmer
I FORGOT HIS NAME. That's how pathetic his presence was. His entire character was so predictable, and I'm sorry, I do not care.
Update: his name is Deen...
~ The relationships ~
I liked some of the friendships and what it was developing, but to be honest, so much more could have been done with the romance. There wasn't enough build up or bonding. It felt rather shallow and forced for the sake of the enemies to lovers story arc. I do hope we get to see Nasir and Zafira bond more in We Free the Stars. I do think that their dynamic could work out very well once that foundation of their relationship is solidified.
Final Thoughts: There were things I liked, and things I didn't. I was going to give this a higher rating and then I started writing down my thoughts and realized that there was just so much that I didn't realize I disliked while reading the book, but long term, once my thoughts were formed, stuck out. I would recommend only to the right person. I can both see why one would love this, but also hate it. I'm kinda in the middle at the moment.