The Candle and The Flame — An Interview with the Author
Updated: Jul 3, 2019
Interviewer: Papatia Feauxzar at Fofky’s
Interviewee: Nafiza Azad
Nafiza Azad is an avid reader and reviewer of YA books. Today she is at our bookstore to discuss her debut YA high fantasy novel The Candle and the Flame. To give you a little background on this book, please read the summary below.
Azad's debut YA fantasy is set in a city along the Silk Road that is a refuge for those of all faiths, where a young woman is threatened by the war between two clans of powerful djinn.
Fatima lives in the city of Noor, a thriving stop along the Silk Road. There the music of myriad languages fills the air, and people of all faiths weave their lives together. However, the city bears scars of its recent past, when the chaotic tribe of Shayateen djinn slaughtered its entire population -- except for Fatima and two other humans. Now ruled by a new maharajah, Noor is protected from the Shayateen by the Ifrit, djinn of order and reason, and by their commander, Zulfikar.
But when one of the most potent of the Ifrit dies, Fatima is changed in ways she cannot fathom, ways that scare even those who love her. Oud in hand, Fatima is drawn into the intrigues of the maharajah and his sister, the affairs of Zulfikar and the djinn, and the dangers of a magical battlefield.
Nafiza Azad weaves an immersive tale of magic and the importance of names; fiercely independent women; and, perhaps most importantly, the work for harmony within a city of a thousand cultures and cadences.
Papatia Feauxzar: Assalamu aleikum Nafiza, welcome to Fofky’s. Can you please tell us something we don’t know about you?
Nafiza Azad: Wa aleikum salam. Something you don’t know about me, huh. Hmm. When I was 12 years old, I spent an hour throwing stones and sticks at a ripe mango growing high up in a tree. I was determined to get it and though it took me a while, get it I did. It remains, to date, the sweetest mango I have ever eaten. In the same vein, I was once chased by a cow who perhaps didn’t like the way I looked at the moment. Growing up on a sugarcane in Fiji, I have a lot of anecdotes that may seem exotic and distant to a lot of people but are probably familiar and relatable to just as many others.
PF: That's funny! I can relate to the mango incident. Growing up in Ivory Coast, we had mango trees in our backyard. And we often threw sticks and rocks to catch the perfectly ripe and sweetest mangoes. If the catcher dropped the flawless mango we had spotted and chose to harass with rocks, there would be drama! Haha, I love your tales, masha'Allah. Thank you for sharing.
PF: So, next question. The Candle and the Flame was something different. I have read many books, and this plot was definitely unique to me. Additionally, it echoed many of my views and feelings about our society when it came to forgiving ourselves, rightful healing from manipulators, women’s rights, patriarchy, powerful matriarchs, love, tolerance, embracing diversity among other important topics brought up in the book. I also enjoyed the fact that your characters have no room for fake platitudes. They say it how it is and save the reader the boredom of drawn out drama and unnecessary intrigues. How did your real-life circumstances and events played into penning these characters so realistically? I mean the inspiration comes from somewhere.
NA: My purpose in writing The Candle and the Flame was to give a reflection to Muslim girls, to brown girls, everywhere. Superbly ambitious, I know, but I peppered the characters and the plot with the reality I live in. The Alif sisters echo my own cousins and the sisterhood I lived in. The City of Noor is a reflection of Lautoka City and Vancouver City. The existence of Noor itself is in response to the toxic rhetoric we find everywhere especially with regards to refugees and other minorities. Acceptance of our differences is still a lesson many of us are learning. Though I wrap all these issues up in a fantastic veneer, they are still pretty contemporary and important for us.
PF: Well done! Now, when did the idea to write this book come to you? How did the inspiration hit you? For instance, for me the inspiration usually comes in a dream or in a strange vision or trance.
NA: Because The Candle and the Flame is a sweeping sprawling tale, it didn’t come to me in one single stroke. First, I had the image of a girl running desperately through crowded city streets. This girl later became Fatima and the city became Noor. Then, I was tangled up and annoyed by Shakespeare and his question, “What’s in a name?” Quite a lot, it turns out. Then again, as I mentioned previously, the toxic rhetoric concerning refugees and minorities, especially Muslims, on the media post the 2016 USA elections. PF: How long did you take you to write the book? On a side note, you teased us until the end with Zulfiqar and Fatima! Please consider writing a short fan-fiction story for us steamy romance lovers, hehe.
NA: I wrote the first draft of the novel longhand and that took me 5 months and 5 notebooks and three pens. Then I rewrote it using my agent’s notes and suggestions which took me another three months. So I would say the entire thing took me almost a year to get into a form that was ready to be submitted to editors.
As far as Zulfikar and Fatima are concerned, if I wrote a short story, it wouldn’t be fanfiction, it would be fan service, *winks* Haha. I may write something for the paperback release if they let me. Fingers crossed.
PF: Yes, please service us! Haha. Fingers crossed indeed.
PF: Finally, I loved many statements in your book. I found them inspirational. For instance, “The classics are singular narratives focusing on those privileged enough to read and write” , “You do not need to make friends with the walls around you to know they are there” , “You pretend that their loyalty is a given. You smile brighter and you laugh harder and you observe who laughs with you and who laughs at you.” These words are powerful indeed, masha’Allah. You definitely write about girls taking over the world and I’m all about that! Have you considered sharing motivational quotes on your social media?
NA: I honestly think it is the characters who are motivational. I, myself, don’t feel like I’m very inspiring, haha. Zulfikar, especially, has a way of speaking in idioms that I found very pleasing and it was totally the way HE spoke and not the way I wanted to write him.
PF: Yes, you are inspirational masha'Allah. Don't be shy *winks*. Thank you so much for being with us. Fofky’s wishes you much success with your debut novel, aameen.
The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza Azad is a Muslim YA high fantasy novel of 416 pages. In this captivating tale, women rule! We have Fatima, a foodie, who is a human girl whose life has been saved by a djinn woman consumed by an unfathomable grief. By the same token, the djinn woman bestows/transfers her powers (fire) to the main character who is unaware of this as she grows up in a city where ifrit djinns and humans cohabitate peacefully.
Fatima has a non-blood related sister who is a makeup and perfume chemist. She uses plants and flowers to make her cosmetics which catch the attention of rich folks including the rajkumari; the princess. Fatima's sister also constantly abuses her verbally but she loves Fatima in her own ways. In time, Fatima stands up to her and their relationship finally takes on a mutual respect aspect.
When peace in Noor is threatened by double-agents, game of thrones advocates and greedy humans and djinns, the strong women in Azad's novel find themselves making the necessary hits needed to keep the peace between the people of Noor and the whole country; a necessary evil that they try to forgive themselves for. Now while Azad shows that there are strong women in this world, she also shows that women can also be the enemies of other women by enabling patriarchs and perverts who have no respect for women's bodies and leading abilities. The strong women in this tale deal ruthlessly with these traitors of the gender because it comes down to survival of the fittest.
On the bright side, Fatima's besties are the Alif sisters. Their names start with the letter Alif if you're wondering why the gang and cryptic name. Anyway, these girls are colorful and fun! One of them is boy crazy about the easy on the eyes Bilal—the muezzin. She enthusiastically declares that he can call her to salat anytime! However, the reality is that she drags her feet when it's time for salat. She made me grin in the whole book.
Now, let's discuss Zulfikar; the other main character and the emir of the city of Noor. He is an ifrit djinn who is Muslim. He is beautiful and makes heads turn. Even one of the Hindu royals of the city has her eyes set on him to gain her freedom from her overbearing family.
Zulfikar is friend with Fatima's teacher; a thriving ifrit bookseller in appearance who doesn't like selling his books. I related to him on this matter. Anyway, when he has to say good bye to Fatima unexpectedly, he grants her his abilities as a djinn unbeknownst to her knowledge. This new state sends her in a senseless state and to prevent her from hurting herself, Zulfikar intervenes out of necessity to help her keep her wits. He gives her some of his fire to calm her down, and he comforts her.
You see, like humans pick up on vibes, djinns in this tale pick up on the shape and the uniqueness of your fire. The only problem with what Zulfiqar did is that helping Fatima has consequences that he can't reverse even though it was the right decision to make in the moment. He bonded himself to Fatima; a bond that is only permitted by marriage. A paranormal romance blooms between Fatima and Zulfiqar and they are not sure if they can trust it since it's the result of an artificial intercession; a life and death matter.
Will they realize that what they feel for each other could be real or is real? Will Bilal reciprocate the Alif sister's feelings? Or will he have the hots for another sister in the gang? Will blood be shed? Will they be cat fights between Fatima and the royal when they come face-to-face?
Read to find out!
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ ⭐