The Candle and the Flame
by Nafiza Azad
This alternate middle eastern fantasy hit my sweet spot. Literally. The hero, an ifrit stationed in the desert city of Noor as Emir under treaty with the human Maharajah, Zulfikar, has a big, bad sweet tooth.
The heroine hangs out with a trio of sisters I fiercely covet– they bicker, tease, unfailingly support, and constantly are eating laddoos. And drinking cardomom-spiced tea with mutliple sugar cubes. I am surprised the citizens of Noor aren’t all diabetic.
Fatima is the adopted sister of Sunaina, both of whom were orphaned many years ago when the city of Noor was overrun by evil djinni called Shayateen. (There are many, many Urdu and Arabic words used in this book, specially regarding clothing and Muslim prayers. I usually could guess their meaning but discovered a handy glossary in the back for those who are less ambiguity tolerant). They are the only three who survived the attack, mysteriously, and Noor was re-populated by a mix of ethnicities and refugees and overseen by the human-ifrit pact.
Fatima’s bookseller mentor, an old ifrit with mysterious powers, dies one day, and in doing so, reveals Fatima is more than just human, thrusting her under the nose of the ifrit Emir, Zulkifar.
A lovely, sweet romance ensues as one subplot, wherein Zulkifar can feel Fatima because of what her mentor did, and wants to protect her, but she will not be moved around like a sack of rice or stay locked up to be protected. Another plot involves the ifrit rulter being tainted by Shayateen blood and needing Fatima’s help, and another subplot is revolution in Noor where we see through the POV of the Maharajah and his little sister.
And there’s a betrayal by Fatima’s sister, Sunaina, and the rarety in historical fantasy– the slow evolution of mutual repentance and forgiveness between sisters. The overwhelming theme here is women being in power, or coming into power as Fatima negotiates her new power, Sunaina negotiates marriage plans, the Maharajah is schooled in leadership by his little sister and wife, etc.
This is a lovely, slow-paced book that hits sweet romance, historical fantasy, world mythos, and foodie spots. I desperately wish it wasn’t, as it seems to be, a stand alone novel. I so wanted to follow Zulkifar and Fatima Ghazala on more adventures.