Last weekend, I posted a short excerpt of my thoughts on We Free the Stars on my Instagram. I kept looking at it and I feel like I need to flesh out some of those impressions. So here we are! 🙂 As I said in that post, I felt like this sequel lost a lot of the fire that We Hunt the Flame carried. I wasn’t riveted like before, especially in the middle of the story where our characters are fighting internal demons more than external ones. I’ll try not to share major spoilers here but honestly, if you haven’t read the first one, I’d do so before continuing on with this review.
We Free the Stars picks up exactly where We Hunt the Flame ended – With the zumra, minus Altair, fleeing Sharr after the battle with The Lion of the Night. (Side note: I’ve noticed a lot of fantasy stories doing this lately, going straight into it with no preamble. I like it!) Everyone is reeling from that battle in their own way. Nasir wants to go back and save Altair after learning he’s his brother. Zafira is now soul bound to the Jawarat and has no idea what that means. Kifah is mourning not just the loss of Altair but also Benyamin. They’re all a complete mess.
But through all this, they agree to concentrate on the next step of their mission. They need to return the hearts from the Seven Sisters of Old to the minarets before they die. Magic can not be restored to Arawiya otherwise. Also, this preferably has to be done before the Lion takes over the whole kingdom now that he’s been unleashed. I was like, “Yes! Let’s see how these bad asses that I’ve come to love, save the day!!”
Instead, they arrive at Sultan’s Keep and it all fell apart for me. The middle became almost all inter- and personal drama with little hits of action here and there. Nothing to really get the blood pumping like we saw in the first book.
The tenuous bond that had formed between Nasir and Zafira on Sharr is almost completely upended. Zafira starts to pull away from everyone as the Jawarat slowly takes over her mind. She spends hours alone, conversing and arguing with it. On the times she does so in front of the zumra, it causes a lot of concern. She goes from being disgusted and scared of it, to flipping out and being protective of it like Gollum when Frodo took his ring. There’s even one point where she’s completely possessed by the thing and commits mass murder. It’s such a heavy burden on her mind and soul, that our once brave and headstrong Huntress starts to second guess everything around her. She becomes a huge liability to the zumra and is sidelined for the first half of the book. As you can expect, this only heightened the tensions between everyone.
Nasir is no better though. He completely collapses in on himself. Gone is the self-assured hashashin that lets nothing detract from his mission. He’s worried about Zafira’s mental decline but has no idea how to help her. He’s terrified to admit his feelings for her because rejection will destroy what’s left of his tattered heart. He’s afraid of his literal shadows and unable to control them. He’s scared of becoming the next Sultan after being groomed as a hashashin his whole life, convinced the people will only hate him. He’s angry with his mother, who we learn actually faked her death and is one of the Seven Sisters. He’s stressed about saving Altair from the Lion. All of this pretty much completely incapacitates him. He’s been reduced to a basket case! The few times he tries to step up and take charge, he either gets ignored or pushed aside. He’s lost his place in the world and while it was interesting to see him work through it, I mostly wanted to reach through the pages and shake him.
For our secondary players… Kifah, who could’ve been amazing, is relegated to supporting role only. We get some of her back story and motivations, and I love the friendship she forms with Zafira. But she never really brings any more weight to the story other than being an excellent fighter. Poor Yasmine’s life only goes from bad to worse and my heart broke for her. Of all the people, she deserved a HEA the most. Only Lana made me smile through out because she’s the carbon copy to Zafira when it comes to grit and determination.
Truthfully, this should’ve just been Altair’s book. He absolutely outshined everyone. The way he kept fighting and mentally working through his strategy, despite being tortured and seeing his long time crush used by the Lion then killed, had me rooting for him. He never gave up. He never fell into a self-indulgent pity party. His heart broke and he felt that but he didn’t let it defeat him. He was determined to get back to his family and keep them safe no matter what. It was what I wanted to see from Nasir but never did. They truly were as different as night and day, light and dark. In the end, I 100% agreed with the way Altair’s story turned out.
By now, I’m sure you’re thinking, “She probably gave it a low rating after all that!” But you’d be wrong. I actually gave a rating of 4 stars to We Free the Stars on Goodreads and StoryGraph. Because DESPITE the lull in the middle and Ms. Faizal taking these characters in directions that I didn’t expect them to go – I mean, she REALLY took Nasir and Zafira for a ride!! – I did truly enjoy the story. I enjoyed the world that she created. I ultimately appreciated that the seemingly strong characters had major (and similar) flaws deep down which emphasized why they fit together. Bottom line, the endings for all the characters was true to them. And at the end of the day, isn’t that what we want as readers? A plot that makes sense and for characters to be believable and real (even if they are in a fantasy)?