I want to make two things very clear off the bat. First, and I can’t stress this enough, it is an extremely important book. Author Nafiza Azad said in an interview with the School Library Journal:
I grew up in a small village called Vitogo which is located on Viti Levu, the largest island in Fiji, a country made up of islands. Western fairy tales such as Cinderella or Rapunzel with their blonde princesses didn’t interest me because the lives they led and the adventures they had felt so alien to me. I was in search of a fairy tale I, and girls like me, girls drunk on sugarcane juice and the sun, could find a home in.
Stories give us a place in which to locate our shared histories; stories are an affirmation of our selves. Stories of the past give birth to the narratives of today. Stories of the present allow dreams of the future.
The stories I read gave me the courage to write my own tale. The Candle and the Flame was a response to my own quest to find someone like me in a fantasy novel, having adventures and being magical. The Candle and the Flame is about Fatima, a human girl who lives in a city ruled by both humans and the Ifrit clan of Djinn. When her mentor, an Ifrit called Firdaus, is killed in front of her, her world is irrevocably changed. She discovers that she has Djinn fire, a Name, and a power essential to Djinns. This places her in a war simmering beneath the surface, a war that could destroy the people she loves and the city she calls home.
To this end Azad excels. I have both read and heard many complain about the authentic vocabulary utilized throughout the book. Many had the same complaints about We Hunt the Flame. When I reviewed the former, I chalked it up to my having a Kindle and being able to look things up quite easily (my ARC didn’t have the glossary later developed).
I will not continue giving readers that pass. We cannot ask for diversity, for new cultural representation and then complain when authors build worlds that breathe life into these worlds by utilizing the linguistics that are the foundation, and soul of their oral tradition. It is a ludicrous complaint.
It is hard enough to strike the balance between representing these vast and beautiful worlds that (and I will only speak for myself on this point) I have never seen or experienced so that my five senses can have that immersion. To complain that having authentic language “thrown at you” so you might have to utilize a glossary or a Kindle’s click on the word and boom the translation shows up, brings you out of the story? No. That is what brings you INTO the story.
Secondly, The Candle and the Flame will be loved by a lot of people, but most importantly- and let me make this real clear- it will represent those that it set out to represent- not coddle those raising the complaints.
Lastly, but not to be forgotten? It is a fantastic book to recommend to stubborn adults who give into trying young adult fantasy books, for the first time. It is for anyone who wants a taste of what most adult fantasy books are like but aren’t ready to just dive into the deep end. Now, unfortunately, that is what didn’t work for me.
And I mentioned this when reviewing We Hunt the Flame (described more than named it in Seven Blades in Black). There is this seven pages to describe a tree syndrome, usually reserved for adult fantasy novels, which I can’t wrap my head around. It is the tell not show issue. And it runs amok in The Candle and The Flame.
What saves Seven Blades in Black is that the first quarterish of the book and the last part of the book has tons of action and the main character is is brilliantly written with snark, wit, purpose and depth. It keeps you plodding through the middle of the book. Neither The Candle and the Flame nor We Hunt the Flame has this saving grace.
Additionally, I have a problem with the inconsistencies with the main character. She works to build her idea of strength. She’s strong. She’s a strong woman in a culture dominated by men. Until suddenly she isn’t. She is married and suddenly most of her strength comes from her husband. She withers.
Meanwhile the side characters, who I liked very much and would have liked much more of throughout the book actually decide to take action. They are the ones who gain strength, take the risks and make the tough choices. They are quick on their toes and brilliantly written as true strong female characters that find themselves. While everyone else sits around watching the world fall apart, they stand up and actually try to do something to stop it.
I can’t say if anything, anyone does stop it because that would spoil the story. I would say that if you are interested at all in reading The Candle and the Flame, you should. There are many reasons to like it.
The struggles I have with it, are struggles I have with numerous books. They are reasons that drove me away from many- not all– but many adult fantasy books.
Truly, I would recommend The Candle and the Flame. Except for some issues around the main character that may bug others? It is truly, dear book, me and not you in many aspects.