A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Words in Arabic to discover here: "azizi," "hayati," "yalla," "sooq," and many more. Plus words for rulers, villains, and mythical creatures that have ancient Arabian origins: "caliph"/"calipha," "hashashin," "ifrit," "marids."
Redemption and goodness are possible, especially when you invite friendship, love, empathy. Profound loss makes beloved people and experiences even more precious. It takes a special courage to hold power and know when not to wield it.
Positive Role Models
Zafira fights with a powerful, sometimes evil, force -- the magical Jarawat book bound to her spirit -- to act justly and bravely and to make the right decisions. She teaches the book how to choose the path of compassion over vengeful bloodshed. Nasir learns to trust his friends and himself and even put power in the hands of those who deserve it instead of claiming it all for himself. Women in this series are powerful characters in a world that often demeans them.
Violence & Scariness
Some gory descriptions: an eye cut out, bodies of humans and horses sliced in half with organs falling out, open-heart surgery with help of magic. Deaths in massacres, skirmishes, assassinations, two heavily mourned. An arrow to the chest nearly kills a main character. Mentions of atrocities such as the gassing of whole villages and people killed, mutilated, and strung up. Talk of the death of the main character's family, the torture of another main character.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Some rough, passionate kissing and lots of longing. Much talk of exploits of the male characters, plenty of innuendo. Characters stumble into a brothel by accident.
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"Daama" often for "damn," plus "bastard."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Attack in the streets by people who have clearly been drinking.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that We Free the Stars is the finale in a fantasy-romance duology by author and Muslim American woman Hafsah Faizal. It takes place in a fictitious land but incorporates some fantasy elements from the ancient Arabian tradition -- like the shape-shifting ifrits. You'll also learn a little Arabic. Expect extra gore in this follow-up, with descriptions of an eye cut out, bodies of humans and horses sliced in half with organs falling out, and even open-heart surgery with the help of magic. There are deaths in massacres, skirmishes, and assassinations, with two heavily mourned, and an arrow to the chest nearly kills a main character. Other content is milder: some swearing (not beyond "bastard) and some passionate kissing and innuendo. Main characters Zafira and Nasir both work to make just decisions. The magic book's soul is bound to Zafira's, and it desires carnage. She must overcome the book's urges and stay true to the more peaceful path she desires. Nasir must find the right way to wield power and know when to relinquish it.
Is It Any Good?
This duology finale favors beautiful prose and melodrama over clear storytelling, enough that even with such an exciting fantasy-world setting, it's hard to recommend. Many writers talk about how important it is to invite the reader on the journey with them. You know when this is done well as a reader because following the story is effortless. In We Free the Stars, everything from the dialogue to the large massacre scenes are hard to follow. Important scenes are not built up to, like when Zafira makes a decision about how to treat the Ifrit ruler when Ifrit rights were barely mentioned before. Other scenes are not logical, like when someone who was thought dead is found alive, there's strange behavior around it instead of a satisfying reunion.
There are a few high points, including scenes with Zafira's little sister, the healer, who becomes another strong female character of many in this tale. And Altair's struggles with his villain father add some fascinating tension. Another pass through this story for clarity and continuity of storylines would have done wonders for We Free the Stars. This enchanting world and its characters that the writer created deserved a better send-off.
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