Saad Z. Hossain’s 2017 Djinn City is a contemporary fantasy. It may share a setting with Hossain’s The Gurkha and the Lord of Tuesday.
Blamed by his father for his mother’s death in childbirth, Indelbed has been raised in isolation and genteel poverty. Indelbed is a surprisingly good-natured kid, given his circumstances. His cousin Rais is quite fond of him. When Rais discovers that Indelbed has never been sent to school, Rais tries to fix what he sees as a problem.
Rais doesn’t expect that his efforts will ruin Indelbed’s life.
Indelbed’s mother was a djinn. Rais’s efforts bring the boy to the attention of other djinns, who decide that Indelbed is a suitable object for an ancient djinn custom: the child hunt.
It’s not clear that this custom benefits djinn society as a whole, but it does benefit the winner of the hunt, who gains prizes and praise. It does not benefit Indelbed in any way; if the hunt succeeds, he will be dead.
Indelbed’s relatives do their best to protect him. They are only human and they fail. Indelbed vanishes, having no doubt fallen victim to his djinn relatives.
Indelbed is not dead. He has been imprisoned in an inescapable, monster-filled murder pit. His captor intended his death, but that doesn’t happen. Indelbed shares the pit with an ifrit, a philanthropist, historian, anthropologist, and biologist named Givara. The ifrit is a mad genius who sees in Indelbed a means of escaping their prison … if the boy can be suitably transformed.
The world may have forgotten Indelbed. Indelbed is not done with the world.
One theme of this novel is the way humans and djinn insist on believing versions of history that flatter them. Contradictory evidence is dismissed as fakery, in the same way a Young Earth Creationist might dismiss any evidence of the Earth’s antiquity. That’s too much of the moment; it’s somewhat depressing.
To expand: don’t expect this novel to be the breezy, comic affair that was The Gurkha and the Lord of Tuesday. There is humor, but it’s trench humor. The humans are trying to survive contact with capricious, immortal demi-gods who don’t hesitate to kill humans. The two main characters, Rais and Indelbed, live lives they did not choose and do not like. There is no grand denouement in which wrongs are righted and the guilty punished.
The ending is a bit abrupt, which leaves ample room for a sequel, should the author ever decide to write one.
Does this mean I didn’t like the book? No. The prose is polished and quite enjoyable. I cared about Indelbed and Rais. I would read the sequel, were there one. There’s room in this world for books that aren’t exactly comfort reads.