A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
Stands out for positive role models.
What 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.
What's the story?
In WE FREE THE STARS, Zafira, Nasir, and Kifah are forced to leave Nasir's brother Altair behind on the island of Sharr with the Lion of the Night. Altair has been kidnapped, along with one of the hearts from the Sisters of Old that they need to restore magic to Arawiya. The trio take the other four hearts across the sea to Sultan's Keep, hoping for safe haven while they devise a plan to rescue Altair and the other heart, only to be tranquilized in the streets when they arrive. They awake in the house of Aya, a safin and healer who agrees to help them disperse the hearts to minarets around Arawiya. With that under way, Nasir decides to head to his father's palace to free the sultan from the Lion of the Night's mind control before the Lion does something drastic with his heart that could keep magic from ever coming back.
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.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the gore in We Free the Stars. Was it jarring, or did it fit well into the spirit of the story?
What Arabic words did you learn in this series? What mythology is new to you? Why do you think there aren't more stories for English-speaking readers that incorporate ancient Arabian mythology?
Would you read more about this world? Which characters would you like to follow?
- Author: Hafsah Faizal
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Princesses, Fairies, Mermaids, and More, Adventures, Brothers and Sisters, Friendship, Horses and Farm Animals, Monsters, Ghosts, and Vampires
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
- Publication date: January 19, 2021
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 14 - 18
- Number of pages: 592
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: February 17, 2021
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