City of Djinns and Magic

A grip­ping fan­tasy novel set in South Asia and writ­ten for grown-ups is re­fresh­ing and wel­come

India Today - - LEISURE - —Deep­an­jana Pal

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

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