The Djinn Falls in Love & Other Stories. ★★★★
This collection of short stories is one of the strongest I’ve seen in a while; definitely the strongest I’ve yet read in 2017.
This collection takes stories by twenty-two authors from all over the world, all dealing in some form with the djinn – the fantastical beings of smoke and fire. I picked up this collection due to some authors who’s work I was already familiar with – Neil Gaiman, Claire North, Amal El-Mohtar, Helene Wecker, and Nnedi Okorafor. Turns out, most of my favorite stories were by authors who were new to me. Oh, and the Neil Gaiman story was an excerpt from American Gods, so don’t pick this collection up based on him.
Some of my favorite stories were those that added djinns to futuristic, science fiction settings. In “The Jinn Hunger’s Apprentice” by E.J. Swift, a spaceship is haunted by jinn. The crew is desperate enough to call in an exorcist, but who is the woman who answers their call? This short story was so much fun and I’d actually love to read more in this universe. The same is true of “Bring Your Own Spoon” by Saad Hossein. In this future, the very air is toxic and the vast majority of the population has never known real food, only artificial stuff that comes out of a processor. But a chef and a djinn begin to change things when they work together to create a restaurant in this delightful tale. There was one other science fiction story, but I found it confusing. “Duende 2077” by Jamal Mahjoub is a murder mystery set in the future. Some of the world building concepts seem interesting, but I still don’t understand who was behind the murder.
Some of the other stories in the collection are confusing as well. “The Sand in the Glass is Right” by James Smythe wins the award in this category. The story’s constantly switching POV characters, and I’d probably need to read it again to figure out what’s going on. Another confusing but ultimately more successful story is “Black Powder” by Maria Dahvana Headley, in which an old rifle is possessed by a djinn. I loved the character of the Huntress, a mysterious woman who lives through centuries and seems to be searching for djinn. I might not have understood everything going on in “Black Powder,” but I still enjoyed the journey.
“Glass Lights” by J.Y. Yang is beautifully written, but it did feel aimless and like it ended suddenly. Still, the writing made me excited to try more J.Y. Yang, particularly those queer fantasy novellas they’ve got coming out in August. “A Tale of Ash in Seven Birds” by Amal El-Mohtar is also a lyrically told story, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I have other works by El-Mohtar. Maybe it was too abstract for me.
There were other stories that left me cold. “Queen of Sheba” by Catherine King was a solid but forgettable story of a girl who’s inherited the ability to see spirits. “How We Remember You” by Kuzhali Manickavel falls too close to magical realism for my taste. “Authenticity” by Monica Byrne was so not my sort of story – a college student seeking authentic experiences visits a porn shoot. “History” by Nnedi Okorafor was one I was looking forward to based on the author. However, I never connected with the pop star diva who summons spirits to use in her performances, and I don’t think it will be too long before the story slides from my mind. “The Emperor’s of Jinn” by Usman Malik and “The Righteous Guide of Arabsat” by Sophia Al-Maria fall into this category as well.
Of all the authors I was already familiar with, I enjoyed Claire North and Helene Wecker’s stories the most. Claire North wrote “Hurrem and the Djinn.” The sultan’s favorite concubine is so powerful that it’s obvious that she must be using dark magic! How else could a woman achieve such influence? In “Majnun” by Helene Wecker, a djinn has become an exorcist, even as his ex-lover pleads with him to come back to her.
But as I previously mentioned, most of the stand out stories were by authors whose work I’d never encountered before. “The Congregation” by Kamila Shamsie is a bittersweet story of a boy who encounters a congregation of djinn and a strong connection with one of them. “Message in a Bottle” by K.J. Parker didn’t seem to involve much in the way of djinn at all, but I liked the conundrum of whether a bottle in a medieval city contains the cure for a plague or a more virulent strain that will wipe out humankind. In “The Spite House” by Kirsty Logan, the daughter of a djinn finds herself overcome by a woman’s wishes. This story uses a sense of rising horror quite wonderfully, much like my favorite story of the collection…
“REAP” by Sami Shah was undoubtedly my favorite. First of all, the method of storytelling is brilliant. The protagonist is a member of an American team observing and analyzing the feed of a drone stationed over Iraq. But through their video feed, the team becomes witness to a horrific supernatural tale.
While the stories I picked this collection up for ended up not being as wonderful as I’d liked, it meant that I discovered many new authors whose works I will have to read more of! I would not hesitate to recommend this collection.
I received an ARC of this collection in exchange for a free and honest review.