With less than a week until Shannon Chakraborty’s River of Silver is released, it is once again time to consider the Djinn. Magical, mystical, incredible. Most of us have at least some passing familiarity with these legendary spirits, if only from watching Aladdin as a kid (called a genie in that film). But as it turns out, there is so much more to these incredible beings then rubbing the side of a lamp, and what your three wishes will be.
These beings fill the tales of pre-Islamic Folklore, and are confirmed to exist within the Quran. In some stories they are mere demons, while in others, they are thought to live in societies all their own, eating, sleeping, procreating and raising families. In many, they even practice religion (Islam, Judaism, and Christianity) and are subject to the judgement of [insert your favorite supreme divinity here].
While in some stories, they get a bad rap (likely because they’re often depicted with special powers which are dangerous to mankind like invisibility), many depict Djinn as neither inherently good nor evil, but merely subject to the same faults, vices, and virtues as regular human beings.
If this sounds like a fertile field to set an adventure, that’s because it is. And I’ve gathered nine excellent stories, featuring Djinn, to show that, and get you hype for a River of Silver.
The Daevabad Books by Shannon Chakraborty
This should be a no-brainer considering A River of Silver is basically a deleted scenes featurette for this series. This wild and fantastic ride finds its start along the shores of the Nile in A City of Brass in which a lowly thief summons an ancient and powerful djinn, more-or-less by accident. From there, Chakraborty weaves a tale that is equal parts surprising and delightful as we delve into this Islam inspired fantasy. By A Kingdom of Copper, we are firmly in this enchanting world, but Chakraborty does not rest on her laurels, expanding the scope of the story and pushing into new and amazing territories (literally). Finally, the EPIC conclusion in Empire of Gold brings the whole story to a close, giving our beloved characters a final send off. Though not my favorite of the trilogy, it is certainly worth the time (29hrs in audio) you’ll spend reading it.
Djinn City by Saad Z Hossain
This is the first of the stories in this list which I have not yet had a chance to read, but I’m definitely looking forward to. Djinn City appears to also begin in a mystic capital city, not Cairo, but Bangladesh. I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book which takes place in Bangladesh, so it is already scoring points there, but also this story just sounds interesting. A dead djinn mother, a drunken father (not a djinn but an emissary to them), a kidnapping, subterranean prisons and a partnership with the world’s most evil djinn? Sign me up please!
Alif the Unseen by Wilson G. Willow
Another I’m excited to try, Alif the Unseen seems to bring us out of the mythic past and into the ‘real world’ (the setting is not named but likely represents a real location or at least a mix of middle eastern locations) and into the present with a young Arab-Indian hacker known as Alif.
Alif seems to be having a hard enough time before his computer is breached by state electronics security, he’s jilted by his lover, and pursued by her new husband (I’m sensing a love triangle) called the “Hand of God”. A secret book of Djinn, The Thousand and One Days, probably will only complicate things. Looks like a whole net of intrigue and action just waiting to be untangled. I can’t wait.
A Dead Djinn In Cairo Universe by P. Djeli Clark
If you have not had the pleasure of reading these stories, drop whatever you’re reading and do it to it. P. Djeli Clark is already well known for stories like Ring Shout, and The Black God’s Drums, but I think it will be his Dead Djinn in Cairo stories for which he will be the most popular. The first, A Dead Djinn in Cairo — from which the series gets its name — introduces us to ‘steampunk Cairo‘, which has as many artifacts and magical beings from the old world, as it does airships, and automatons, from the ‘new’ (early 1900’s) one. We meet the delightful detective Fatma el-Sha’arawi. She is bold and smart, and generally a just a breath of fresh air to read.
The Angel of Khan el-Khalili, a short story in second person, gives us a closeup of one of these magical beings, the mysterious ‘Angels’, and we see just how powerful and ineffable these creatures really can be. The Haunting of Tram Car 015 introduces us to a new detective, Hamed Nasr, and is likely the first haunting of a tram I’d ever read. Beyond this novelty, the story expands the world slightly and produces one of the most subtly foreshadowed final scenes I think I’ve read to date. Another excellent addition.
Finally, A Master of Djinn, a 2022 Hugo Award finalist, brings everything together in a great tale of magic and detection. We have secret societies, cults (yes in this story they are different), ancient gods, political intrigue, lesbian romance, and a giant steampunk robot. What’s not to love?
Much like the Daevabad books mentioned above, these stories feature Islamic mythology and folklore, as well aspects of Muslim religion (oh and quite a good deal more references mythology from Ancient Egypt as well). Part of what made reading these stories so fun was comparing them to the Chakraborty’s books and seeing how some of the same creatures, myths and legends were interpreted differently.
Wishing for more . . . ?
Ok while I think in general we’re trying to get away from associating Djinn only with stories about wishes, I couldn’t help but try using it in a not-so-clever sub heading. Anyway, if this small taste has left you salivating for more Djinntastic fantasies like a thirsty desert wanderer, you’ll be happy to know, there are plenty more oases just over the next sand dune.
Of course, A River of Silver releases next Tuesday (and who doesn’t want to return to Daevabad), but there are also a plethora of stories featuring Djinn already written. They’re just a google away. Or if you’d like someone else to curate the list, just give this blog a follow. I’ll be posting more lists and reviews of stories featuring Djinn as I come across them (or check back here, I’ll try to link them).
What was your favorite story I’ve mentioned here? Which are your favorite which I didn’t mention but should absolutely include in my next list? Let me know in the comments.
See you next time.
Hmm, I haven’t read any of these and I can’t think of any titles I have read that feature djinn! I know one of my bff’s favourite books is THE GOLEM AND THE JINNI, though….
I’m probably gonna make another list after I read some of the books on here. THE GOLEM AND THE JINNI is super high on that list!! I’ve heard such great things about it!
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