Book Review: Djinn City by Saad Z. Hossain

Named as one of the Guardian’s best books of the year, Djinn City evokes the supernatural world of djinns who are permeated in the popular imagination either through the cartoons like Aladdin or television series like I Dream of Jeannie where genies are subservient to their human masters or through movies where they are characterized as evil, dark characters whose very existence is to afflict agony and torment humankind. In both the scenarios, their world circles around the human world. However, Hossain’s djinns are not run-of-the-mill djinns – they are not cardboard characters with simplistic shades of black or white, good or evil – they operate with aspirations and motives of their own.

An imaginative potpourri of supernatural politics, adventure, science fiction fantasy and ancient war, thrown in with dark humor and satire, Djinn City is set in a modern-day Bangladesh.

Opening with a story of Indelbed who lives in a so-called decrepit mansion in Dhaka along with his father, Dr. Kaikobad, the black sheep of the Khan Rahman Clan; the author quickly moves on to introduce the dramatis personae of the Rahman Clan, especially, Rais – the more fortunate cousin of Indelbed who has been raised with all the privileges that come along with the name of Khan Rahman.

As Dr. Kaikobad, ‘a physician as well as a PhD in mathematics, with a near-genius IQ’ who ‘had started life with all the trappings of wealth and success’ but had wasted everything in a few short decades – falls into a magical coma – the world of Indelbed and Rais turns topsy-turvy. The once mythical world of djinns comes alive with all its politics, conspiracy, cunning, and devilry and like his father, Indelbed also falls prey to the scheming and plotting of djinns. Thrown in the murder pit with villainous djinn, Indelbed discovers that he is no less than half-djinn himself. While Indelbed learns a little magic and tips of survival in the murder pit, Rais moves on to become a human emissary to the djinn world. In the meanwhile, Dr. Kaikobad explores another realm altogether – an eternal First City of Gangaridai where the great ancient war is still being fought. As Kaikobad witnesses the ancient war, Rais prepares for the war fast approaching, the war unleashed by some djinns to eradicate humans from the Asian continent to free up some space for the djinns.

Developed with the skill of a master storyteller, the novel is replete with bad-ass djinns, invisible flying machines, dragons nurtured in pits, submarines, supernatural courts and more. The world of djinns is an allegorical representation of the human society – brutal, fickle, selfish, ruthless and cruel – filled with racial hatred for hybrids, divided between conservatives and liberals.

However, the greatest achievement of Hossain lies in character development – whether humans or djinns – and the plot which is largely driven by the characters.   

Awash with multifaceted characters – from Dr. Kaikobad, a drunkard and a wastrel of human world turns out to be highly respectful in the djinn-dom to Indelbed, a naïve kid who metamorphoses quite literally into a monster to Rais who grows from being an irresponsible kid to the one who carries the heavy task of saving the mankind. Not just the central characters, even the peripheral characters are well molded. Juny, the stone cold aunt is the one who fights for the protection of Indelbed. Likewise, the djinns are fleshed out with intricacy, who though vain and shallow are not simplistic – Givaras the Broken, the Maker – the mad Frankenstein who creates the monster also fights for the survival of the djinns, “They call me Maker…The field is what makes us djinn. So I gave the field to other things. I made djinns…” Bahamut – nihilistic djinn – turns out to be the one who has spent the last ten millennia guarding the door between this world and the other world. Nevertheless, what the novel reveals at the end is a rather pessimistic vision of the world – there are no heroes, only survivors – and even if, some turn out to be heroes, they do not necessarily make it to the finish line.

All in all, a work of great imagination packed with adventure, ample twists and cliff-hangers, Djinn City is a dark fantasy that binds the reader to the end. A real page-turner!       

P.S: A review copy of the book had been sent by the publisher in return for an honest and unbiased review

Links: Amazon | Goodreads

2 thoughts on “Book Review: Djinn City by Saad Z. Hossain

  1. I have been seeing this book a lot on book shelves lately and every time my hand goes to pick it up, I instantly pull it back, I am unsure. Thanks Isha for the wonderful review, I know now how my hand and head should behave.


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