Published by: Rebellion Solaris
ISBN 13: 9781781084175
Published: March 2017
Format reviewed: eVersion from NetGalley
Site: Publisher Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
So many authors are the reason I picked this one up – Helene Wecker, Maria Dahvana Headley, Amal El-Mohtar, Usman T. Malik and Nnedi Okorafor just to name a few… I love a good djinn tale, and this anthology somehow surpassed my already high expectations. An anthology often contains a number of shorts that I’m just not in the mood for, or feel overwhelmed by… but this collection was close to perfect.
It sets the tone well by starting with a poem, The Djinn Falls in Love by Hermes, and translated by Robin Moger, giving the anthology its title.
The Congregation – Kamila Shamsie
This first short story was so beautiful – a young boy wakes for prayer, but somehow finds himself amongst praying jinn instead, either by waking entirely early, or somehow walking into their own world. He stands beside a boy about his age, who whispers things that keep him safe – then they all disappear, and Qasim is at a loss without jinn in his life as he got to experience for such a short amount of time, yet knows can’t be ever matched.
He allows an exorcism to try to free him from their hold, but as the man says, what is one supposed to do about a boy who craves nothing else?
We have a sweet ending, see Qasim grow old, and finally find a love that finds meaning. This is a strong start to the anthology, and leads us onwards, well.
How we Remember You – Kuzhali Manickavel
Several people reminisce about someone now lost to them, and it’s interesting how their shared experiences are remembered differently from person to person. It’s quite an angry re-telling, showing the guilt that more wasn’t done to save their friend while it was still possible.
A boy who has feathers growing from his back, can disappear and reappear, and has been witnessed flying, is locked in a room when he doesn’t seem to be as magic as he once was. And he becomes the burden of guilt upon his former friends.
Hurrem and the Djinn – Claire North
Davuud has the hard task of investigating the sultan’s favourite wife – and one can only guess at what the repercussions may be for this one. Told in the first person, this one is a little more of a ‘Arabian Nights’ tale as we hear of someone tell us the story as the story itself. At times the voice doesn’t match the tone that well, and upon re-reading, this is possible one of the weaker shorts in the collection, yet still readable.
Glass Lights – J. Y. Yang
A young girl with djinn blood in her veins can still suffer from the same human ailments that anyone can – loneliness. Mena is different from the other girls at work, and though she can feel the strong human emotions of those around her, it doesn’t make life any easier. The work heartthrob will still go for pretty Wendy, and Mena still won’t be invited to lunch – or even if she is, she won’t be able to attend a non-kosher restaurant.
A simple and quick story, that is elegant and sticks with you for how relatable it is. Incidentally, Yang has two novellas coming out with Tor this year – The Red Threads of Fortune and The Black Tides of Heaven and I could not be more excited to read them after this short story.
Authenticity – Monica Byrne
A story that involves sex deliberately in a way that’s all about seeking experiences and thus, what makes us human – or how others may seek the human experience. There’s often stories of Gods and others coming to humans for sex or otherwise, and this completes that. Unfortunately, due to my sexuality I wasn’t able to understand this one (the drive, or the need, etc) and hence it left me a bit cold.
Majnun – Helene Wecker
Zahid was once consort to Aisha, the famous jinniyah of Morocco for over a century. Now he uses his special abilities to clear jinns from possessing young children, and that’s why he is called the the bedside of a young boy who Aisha has taken up residence inside, just to get Zahid’s attention.
This one is endlessly interesting, because it goes into detail of how a once favoured jinn has a religious experience, and has to re-asses his entire life, and how he knew he was once happy, but also never at peace. He discovers what he needs in his life along the way, and struggles hard to make it happen, even if he’s had to leave his entire world behind and hurt his own kind for the now and future.
This is a beautiful piece of work, and I can’t wait for Wecker’s next novel to come out. 2018 is far too long away.
Black Powder – Maria Dahvana Headley
Jinns don’t always live in lamps. This one, lives in a rifle once owned by a terrible man who made hundreds of lives hell by taking women and abandoning the resulting children all through the wilderness. A hundred and fifty years later, and its now in the hands of some punk kid who has no friends, and its easy to see why.
This story is good as it is another djinn story that has a totally different setting to most. It’s mysterious and edgy and everything plays out like a movie in your mind, but it isn’t exactly kind.
A Tale of Ash in Seven Birds – Amal El-Mohtar
Seven birds. Sparrow, crow, cormorant, swallow, hummingbird, owl, phoenix. Short and yet powerful, as we see these wonderful birds hunted by wizards and to say anything else about it would take away the magic. It’s only five pages long and perhaps the shortest piece in the book, but utterly wonderful.
The Sand in the Glass is Right – James Smythe
The idea of how even with wishes, perhaps a life without them is far simpler and safer. It’s one of those shorts that explores the idea of how you need to be careful when making a wish, or how you have to frame or think of it in order to somehow achieve what you really want – even if perhaps you don’t know the answer yourself. We see a man try again and again to get his wish right, but the consequences each brings.
I would have preferred that this one have – well, not more structure, as I get the deal with the lack of grammar signifying pace and the runalong nature of it all, but I’ve never been a fan of the no speech marks thing.
Reap – Sami Shah
Initially for some reason I thought this was space exploration, but instead it was set in both New Mexico (in a shipping container where a team remotely control a drone) and keep an eye on things in Pakistan, analysing the heat signatures and other data that comes back. They’ve done this for so long that they know each and every person in the area, what their routines generally are, and have even given them nicknames.
This one is well done, as it’s interesting from the beginning (or perhaps only to nerds like me who like analyst-type things like Anna-the-Analyst does), and slowly turns more and more interesting as the surveillance on the locals drips piece after piece of information into your lap, so you’re working it out alongside the intelligence team. Masterfully done, and high five to Shah.
I really shouldn’t have read this one before going to bed, though.
Queen of Sheba – Catherine Faris King
Set in 1953 it’s Christmas and snow is falling, twelve-year-old Juanita is now old enough to sit with the adults, prepare the house for Christmas while the little ones sleep, and stay up for Midnight Mass and coffee. Part of her tasks is to iron the linens – an important job – but something strange catches her attention away just for a moment to long, leaving a burn mark to ruin her hard work.
Auntie Opal – who’s not really an auntie at all – saves the day somehow, but how leaves far too many questions, and then an urgent call pulls her away before she can explain to Juanita.
What I love about this piece is how it toys with our expectations, to the point where it’s even mentioned in the short and twisted this way and that. I loved this piece.
The Jinn Hunter’s Apprentice – E. J. Swift
Suddenly, we’re in space. And it’s beyond excellent. A ship has at least one (possibly more) staff possessed by jinn, and Captain Bukhari is expecting Ajam to come help him. Instead, he receives his apprentice, Fahima and her ring-tailed lemur who immediately gets on Bukhari’s bad side. It’s not like he has much choice though, so he blinks over the reports and agrees to make appointments between her and his crew so they can be interviewed, and leaves her to it.
This is beyond excellent, to the point where I paused reading to look up where I’d seen Swift’s name before and was glad to realise I have Osiris, the first book in her series, already waiting to be read on my eReader. I know what I’ll be doing next very, very shortly. That’s how good this piece was.
Message in a Bottle – K. J. Parker
A scholar has a hefty weight on his shoulders – look back upon forbidden texts to see if there’s ever been a possible cure to two strains of awful plagues which are causing havoc wherever they reach. I do like seeing a bookish hero.
There was once a great man, who was either beyond evil or good (or, like most humans, probably a bit of both) who knew much about the plagues but possibly was the creator… but also possibly, knew of a cure. The trouble is knowing how to separate his lies from the truth, and perhaps it’s impossible to really ever know that. Relying on a hunch when thousands of lives are in your hands certainly wouldn’t be for the faint hearted.
I quite liked this one – it had an easy flow, and the characters are interesting enough to be able to ignore slight plot holes and the like.
Bring your Own Spoon – Saad Z. Hossain
Ahh, post apocalyptics worlds, my favourite. Hanu is scraping by. Though luck he has some comforts, but the little he has he’s willing to share, which of course means that somehow, he’ll get by as this is a story. The little details of the carded people, the health warnings, contamination and viruses, quickly give this short story such depth that I instantly want a full novel of this.
Although everything is doom and gloom, by Hanu’s little stove it seems like such a cozy story. The djinn seems so casual and childlike – being bored is why they sleep so often, which is a nice touch. And a pirate never hurts, either.
Somewhere in America – Neil Gaiman
An except from his book American Gods, so a pass from me.
Duende 2077 – Jamal Mahjoub
A murder occurs where murder is taboo, so it just doesn’t happen – a detective is there, though there’s no resources as no murders happen. Futuristic perfection, complete with holograms… and yet also at a loss, as things from the past are strictly forbidden.
Duende 2077 was the messiah, who will return again. And that’s how this short is left. I’m not entirely sure I ‘got’ the majority of it (or even half of it), but it kept me reading.
The Righteous Guide of Arabsat – Sophia Al-Maria
An interesting discussion on how a woman is damned if she do, damned if she don’t. If a woman doesn’t know anything about sex, she does her husband a disservice – if she knows too much, then all hell breaks loose. A man with several issues is matched with a woman, and their first night of married life doesn’t all go to plan.
This one isn’t a comfortable read. The way he picks her apart, the way he grew up, everything is so… not healthy.
The Spite House – Kirsty Logan
A piece in where though a djinn may have magic and be all powerful – perhaps they are just as much trapped by their god-like ability than anything else, and it’s actually a curse.
I love stories that investigate this idea. Genie from Down Under was a dreadfully bad (so bad it was SO good) tv show here in Australia growing up, and it was one of those fatal ‘don’t say ‘I wish’ near them’ because it’ll never turn out the way you hoped. In this, a junk scavenger is delighted with haul she finally finds, only to be enticed in with the thoughts of more by granting first one, then two, then three wishes. Terrible wishes. She runs and hides, but the woman finds her and eventually, the life of the half-djinn is barely one worth living…
Emperors of Jinn – Usman T. Malik
Four children, related via their mothers’ side, are thrown together during the holidays. They vaguely know of each other, they know that one of them likes to punch and that another likes nasty things, but that’s about all. They’re surrounded by riches and one gets the idea fairly early on that they’ve never had to care about the results of their actions.
All up, it’s all pretty awful. As ever, Malik’s writing is perfect.
History – Nnedi Okorafor
In this, History is the most famous singer of the world. Born to African-American parents who were on research tours at the time, History was born and raised in Nigeria, and it is there she began to sing and dance like in a way that everyone knew she’d be famous one day. She’s taken to the oldest woman in the village, who also happens to be a sorceress, who teaches History the beginnings of everything she needs to know in order to both control her magic, and not cause any trouble with it.
It’s about this time that History manages to capture a bush baby and there he remains, in her mirror, bringing her true good luck throughout her life and career. And I love the ending line – but to find it out, you’ll just have to buy the anthology.