*I received a copy of this book from the publisher. This has not influenced my review.*
Djinns! So many djinns! YES!
A couple years ago I read some urban fantasy books about djinns and decided they just weren’t for me. But I became interested in them again lately, so I decided to give this book a try, and apparently the problem was the books themselves, not djinns, because this version was super interesting!
The author clearly put a lot of thought into the djinn aspect, and that was my favorite thing about the book. These were not the lamp-living, wish-granting kind, but they were powerful, they were able to do spells and to shapeshift over periods of time, and they were practically immortal. Even cooler was that they had their own society alongside the humans with its own factions, ways of life, values, currency, politics, and history. The author even included different types of djinns (Ifrit, Marid, Ghul).
The plot was complex and intricate as well since it included a lot of djinn politics and other surprising things I can’t tell you about because spoilers. Here’s a hint: it involves a dragon, but probably not in the way you’re thinking. Also, the story was slow-paced and spanned roughly ten years, but I didn’t mind those things. What I did mind was when I got to the end and found there were still a bunch of open threads for the story to continue. I assume this will have a sequel that wraps them up, but I didn’t know that when I started. Also, the plot dragged a bit at some parts where there was a lot of explanation, but that wasn’t a huge deal.
The characters were believable and interesting. I would say the book had two protagonists—Indelbed and Rais. Poor Indelbed, his life was awful, and I couldn’t help but feel for him. Rais, Indelbed’s cousin, was harder to like, but he eventually showed some mettle, and it made him more likeable. Perhaps the best was Juny, Rais’s mother, who was organized, smart, and in control and who could make pretty much anything happen if she wanted it to. There were also the djinn characters, who were all a bit off their rockers. One of them was literally a school of fish. Not a fish. A whole school of them.
But this book wasn’t so much focused on any one person’s journey. It was more about the overall issue of one djinn planning to wipe out an entire country and those who were trying to stop him. I felt it was a good balance of character-driven and plot-driven, and the omniscient POV was used well.
I do want to mention, however, that there were numerous casual uses of the (offensive) words ‘retard(ed)’ and ‘cripple’. I spoke to the publisher about my concerns, and they explained this was done on purpose to fit with the setting and characters in the book. I respect that decision, I appreciate realism in books, and I do think the author succeeded in portraying the problematic natures of the characters (which, it’s my understanding, is what he was going for), but I’m still not sure how I feel about it. It just didn’t seem necessary to me for so many characters and the narration to use these words.
As for the overall feel, the writing had a comical style with a bit of absurd humor (which I love), but the mood did darken at times, especially as the story went on. It made the book unpredictable, which I liked. So this book was fun at times, but not light. In fact, there were a few things that were pretty disturbing, like experimentation/intense pain inflicted upon characters and the djinn practice of killing djinn-human hybrid children they considered “defective.”
Last but not least, I loved that this was an #ownvoices book set in Bangladesh, written by a Bangladeshi author. I had never read anything set there before.
So overall, despite a few issues, this was a creative and complex story with an interesting portrayal of djinns that I enjoyed!
Anyone who likes djinns, complex plots, and a mixture of humor and darkness.