This must be the season of the djinn. Over the past several months we’ve reviewed two excellent novels about genies – Salman Rushdie’s excellent Two Years Eight Months & Twenty-Eight Nights and, most recently, S.A. Chakraborty’s spellbinding City of Brass. Could Saad Z. Hossain make it a hat trick with his latest novel, Djinn City? The answer is: absolutely!
This is the story of Indelbed, a lonely boy living with his alcoholic father in a Bangladeshi slum. Indelbed never knew his mother, although her death certificate has always made him painfully aware that he was the reason for her sudden demise – ‘Death by Indelbed’ is all it states. But it isn’t until his father falls into a mysterious coma that Indelbed discovers his mother was a djinni and that his father used to be a trusted emissary to the djinn world. Now a vicious group of djinn are trying to hunt Indelbed down and before he knows it he is imprisoned in a “murder pit” where carnivorous worms threaten to consume him and his only ally is the ancient Ifrit Givaras, who must teach Indelbed some hard lessons if the young man is ever going to understand the ways of the djinn, discover his own magical abilities, and recover his freedom.
Meanwhile, Indelbed’s irresponsible older cousin Rais is beginning to suspect that something is wrong. When Indelbed disappears, Rais takes matters with the djinn into his own hands – and all human life may pay the price for what he discovers.
Saad Z. Hossain is an astonishing storyteller, juggling Middle Eastern mythology with steampunk flying machines, nascent dragons, magical duels, some fantastic action sequences and a terrific dash of black comedy. The djinn in this story are a wholly believable and contemporary reinvention, and Indelbed is far from being yet another clone of Harry Potter – there is true magic within these pages, and the way Hossain blends the natural and supernatural and makes the intricacies of djinn society as vivid and engrossing as Indelbed’s more comfortably familiar coming-of-age adventure is quite wonderful. The only minor criticism is that there’s an awful lot of talking, and quite a bit of important exposition within the dialogue – you have to keep your wits about you or you might find yourself scratching your head a few pages later. Still, it’s not enough of a problem to spoil the fun and this is a novel that never stops being worthy of your full attention.
Let’s start rubbing lamps and wishing that a sequel quickly follows.
DJINN CITY / AUTHOR: SAAD Z. HOSSAIN / PUBLISHER: THE UNNAMED PRESS / RELEASE: DECEMBER 14TH