By Cynthia Bujnicki
Fatima lives in Noor, a city rebuilt from ashes and blood into a thriving land of diversity and tolerance. Noor is protected by the Ifrit, Djinni of order and reason. However, when the oldest and strongest of them is mysterious dies, changing Fatima in ways she does not understand, she is thrust in the middle of two worlds, one Fatima does not understand, and one she no longer fits into.
Some debuts are too beautiful for words; this is one of them. It is hard to think of this as a debut because of how wonderful this novel this, beautifully structured and vibrant the world that Azad has created here. First, there is the city of Noor. It is a beautiful city not in the way she details it but in the way Azad fills it with character. It was a city devastated, left in ruin, but it has risen from those ashes in such an excellent way. There is diversity here, such brilliance in that, making it this little utopia amidst the world surrounding it. There is such tolerance in the city, but what is important here is how Azad builds it, people came to Noor to escape the hate and intolerance, and in this city, they TAUGHT each other tolerance. It was not easy, but they worked at it in order to build a safe home for themselves and others. The characters all respect and love each other in such fundamental ways, and there is a line in this novel that sums up the beauty, a line made by the princess. It goes like this:
“You cannot judge an entire population of a people by the actions of a select few. You cannot use your grief and your sorrow to justify your hate and your discrimination.” —Rajkumari Bhavya
That single line highlights everything good about the city of Noor, the beauty and brilliance of it as well as the message behind the novel. The characters strive for harmony amidst the chaos around them, and it is beautiful how Azad develops it, slipping in those small achievements at harmony in so many ways throughout the text.
As for the characters themselves, Azad ensures their richness through their development. The dynamics between them are multifaceted as they come from different backgrounds and different races, some are poor, others rich, their religions are their own, and their beliefs are their own. Moreover, while they do not but heads with one another, they face their issues. Fatima and her sister go through stages of acceptance, denial, rejection, before spending half the novel trying to forge through their differences in order to be happy with themselves more so than with each other. Again, this mirrors the tolerance they have with one another with that of the city but on a more intimate scale. The same goes for Fatima and the Djinni. Fatima is a part of two worlds, and she has to try to navigate these two worlds.
Each character has such a complex narrative and grows throughout — the women especially, which is especially gratifying to read. The women go from quiet and amiable to these powerhouses, these fierce women who stand with their heads high as the men around them falter. Moreover, each of them does so in such a different manner as they face different challenges. It is incredible to see these women rise to the occasion with such ferocity in their narratives.
The Candle and the Flame is such a beautiful novel in the way it evolves and evokes such passion and harmony with every chapter, with every page that it explores the world, the magic, and the ferocity of the characters. It is not often that I can pinpoint a moment in the novel that evokes such wonder and passion, but this is one of them because Azad has the passion, the flame that burns in the novel and spreads like a magical fire to her readers. (★★★★★)