Fire Boy by Sami Shah. ★★★
Wahid thinks he’s just a normal teenager growing up in Karachi, Pakistan. He attends school, plays Dungeons and Dragons with his friends, and crushes on a cute girl in his class. He has no idea that he’s the son of a djinn.
Everything changes for Wahid when two djinn attack a car he’s driving. His best friend is killed, and the girl he likes soul is stolen. In his quest to find the djinn who did this, Wahid becomes immersed in the supernatural side of Karachi.
I don’t think I bothered to read the blurb before I started Fire Boy. So it wasn’t until around 30% in when the girl’s soul is stolen that I realized this was going to be a “rescue the damsel” plot line. Most of my problems with Fire Boy stem from just how lacking the female characters are. The girlfriend is the most important female character… but she has practically no character. She’s one of those female characters who could be replaced with a sexy lamp and the story wouldn’t change. She has no personality or presence. Her role in the story is the damsel in distress, existing to give Wahid a rescue based quest. It’s a plot line I’ve seen a thousand times before, and it’s tired and sexist. I want more from the books I read.
What’s frustrating is that at other times the narrative addresses violence against women. The author clearly had good intentions, but female characters are still seriously lacking.
The other serious issue I had with Fire Boy is that it’s not a complete story. There is no narrative arc, no climax. It simply stops. It’s like one book was arbitrarily split down the middle. I don’t mind books ending in a cliffhanger or clearly being the beginning of a series, but I want them to have their own arc and climax. I still want the structure of a complete story even if it’s not complete. I didn’t get this with Fire Boy.
On the positive side, I think Shah did a wonderful job weaving the fantastical into Karachi. Shah does for Karachi what Gaiman did for London in Neverwhere. He takes a modern day cityscape and fills it with a hidden magical side, this time based specifically in Pakistani myth. The result is beautifully vibrant.
I’m not going to read the second book unless I hear that it improves in regard to female characters. However, I doubt this will happen. While Fire Boy was too male centric for my taste, it still may appeal to anyone looking for Pakistani urban fantasy.