Djinn City

by Saad Hossain

I am always reading an ebook and a hardback in tandem. Sometimes the two books end up informing eachother in interesting ways. I ended up reading this with a YA fantasy (We Hunt the Flame) also set in the Middle East with references to magic, etc, written by authors with connections to countries on the Bay of Bengal.

Saad Hossain is Bangladeshi, and most of Djinn City is centered around parts of Bangladesh and Dhaka. It starts out with a young boy named Indelbed, the offshoot of the rich Khan Rhamans, the son of a ridiculed minor member of that family who is attacked and goes into a coma. This leaves Rais, his cousin, and his Aunt Juny in charge of him. The promptly lose him to an officious and official looking man, Dargoman, who gives him to his Djinn benefactor.

Indelbed gets put in a murder pit along with the crazed, heartless, deviant enemy of the elder & powerful Djinni– Givaras the Maker, the Broken One.

Rais ends up becoming an emissary between the Djinn and humans, and enters a complicated political world full of rules and contracts and really crazy powerful beings.

All of this sounds quite fantastical, but the story is really grounded in everyday, banal existence spiced with human and Djinn carelessness for life and willingness to inflict pain. There’s quite a lot of pain inflicted in this book. Whether its Indelbed being burned in dragon fire or corrupt security officers raping and burning alive homeless vagrants.

Givaras spends ALOT of the book telling Indelbed his philosophy and theories on life, magic, and the nature of the university. Rais runs around trying to convince people to let him be their servant/ambassador and finding out information and the history of the Djinn.

There’s also a somewhat confusingly vague and strange (I sometimes skimmed these bits) parts featuring Indelbed’s comatose father as he is thrust into a new existence related to the main mystery of the Djinn.

The ending is fun, but ultimately unsatisfying and does not tie up many lose ends. And poor, poor Indelbed. As a reader, we feel for him, but he is tortured so incessantly by Givaras that at some point I had to turn off my feelings for him, it was just too terrible.

Quite interesting glimpse into Bangladeshi culture, very pessimistic about human nature, occasionally amusing tale. The author definitely loved his own creations of airships and floating hubs, the nature of Djinn distortion field magic, etc. Definitely gave off Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell vibes, if that were set in Bangladesh the characters endured a lot more abuse.