City of Djinns and Magic
A gripping fantasy novel set in South Asia and written for grown-ups is refreshing and welcome
An old house full of secrets, an eccentric father, the underdog hero and a magical world that’s rubbing shoulders with everyday reality—Saad Hossain’s Djinn City has all the tropes of a fantasy novel. But this is no desi Harry Potter.
Even though it’s full of incantations and fantastical beasts (there’s even a dragon!), Djinn City is not for kids. This is magic for grown-ups, complete with murder, treachery, torture and terrifying evil.
Ten-year-old Indelbed lives with his drunk father Kaikobad in the Khan Rahman family home in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The house and Kaikobad are equally ruined. Occasionally, the extended family intervenes half-heartedly on behalf of Indelbed.
But no one expects anything to change—until Kaikobad slips into a mysterious coma, Indelbed discovers his mother was a djinn and his father a magician and respected emissary to the djinn world. In no time, Indelbed and the Khan Rahmans find themselves in a dangerous adventure that plunges them into djinn histories and politics.
Hossain’s novel is dark, malevolent and violent. It’s also spectacularly imagined. Rather than purple and lovable, his djinns are cruel, whimsical and fixated on their ability to influence (much like the average social media influencer). The humans in Djinn City aren’t much better.
Considering the kind of behaviour Indelbed’s uncles exhibit, the distaste djinns feel towards people seems justified. That is, until you come face to face with villainous djinns like Matteras, who has a reputation of making enemies
disappear and who wants to wipe out a sizeable chunk of humans.
Fortunately, there are a few who aren’t ready to roll over and die. Led by Indelbed’s aunt Juny—a magnificent cocktail of empathy, humanity and cold-blooded determination—a resistance develops against Matteras. What neither the djinns nor humans realise is that Matteras is not the one to fear. There’s a greater, darker terror lurking in the shadows.
Hossain weaves the different strands of Djinn City together skilfully and uses djinn politics to talk about ideas of cultural and genetic purity, fundamentalism and majoritarian politics.
There’s a lot of socio-political criticism nestled in the storytelling, but to Hossain’s credit, it never overwhelms the plot. He’s created a fabulous cast of characters and they drive Djinn City to great heights.
Although the conclusion is awkward and feels rushed, for most part Djinn City is a gripping read. To have fantasy set in a South Asia and written for grown-ups is refreshing and welcome. Fingers crossed Hossain is working on a sequel.
IN SAAD HOSSAIN’S story, 10-year-old Indelbed lives with his father Kaikobad in Dhaka. As his magician father slips into coma, Indelbed discovers his mother was a djinn. Soon, he gets drawn in to a world where both djinns and humans are cruel, whimsical