REVIEW: The Djinn Falls in Love and Other Stories

THE DJINN FALLS IN LOVE AND OTHER STORIES, ed. Mahvesh Murad and Jared Shurin
Solaris, 2017
eBook, 246pp

The Djinn Falls in Love and Other Stories

The Djinn Falls in Love and Other Stories is an anthology of short fiction edited by Mahvesh Murad and Jared Shurin. An editor and critic, Murad is also known for her fantastic weekly interview podcast on Tor.com, Midnight in Karachi; while, alongside his role as editor at now-defunct indie publishing house Jurassic London and other editing credits, Shurin edits the pop culture criticism blog Pornokitsch.

Through 22 stories, the anthology explores what the djinn mean to us—supernatural beings from Islamic mythology made from fire as we were from clay, and famed granters of wishes.

Often, the djinn represents escapism itself, such as in Jamal Mahjoub’s ‘Duende 2077‘, a gritty neo-noir crime thriller-styled story of a future Britain as an Islamic caliphate. The same is true in Neil Gaiman’s ‘Somewhere in America‘, a standalone extract from his novel American Gods, in which a queer Arab man finds release he hadn’t been looking for.

In Amal El-Mohtar’s searing ‘A Tale of Ash in Seven Birds‘, a lyrical exploration of the immigrant experience, the djinn grants the power not to escape a situation but to triumph over it. It also contains one of the best lines I’ve read in 2017, and made me shriek and flail when I read it.

Maria Dahvana Headley’s intoxicatingly beautiful ‘Black Powder‘ focuses on the power of the wish itself, cleverly weaving her story into classic Americana by marrying it with that other too-powerful artefact, the gun. In her story, the power of the djinn wreaks havok on the human world, and needs to be contained.

The most common thread explores the line between the mundane and the supernatural, as personified respectively by humans and djinn. Inhabiting this liminal space is Catherine King’s ‘Queen of Sheba‘, in which a Latina girl on the border between childhood and adolescence discovers her own magic in the midst of the most ordinary LA Christmas.

Juxtaposed with humanity, the state of being djinn embodies the status of outsider, as in JY Yang’s ‘Glass Lights‘,  as well as depicting the atrocities that othering can make you prey to, in three stories I found absoutely chilling each in their own way: Kuzhali Manickavel’s ‘How We Remember You‘, Sophia Al-Maria’s ‘The Righteous Guide of Arabsat‘, and Kirsty Logan’s ‘The Spite House‘.

In a fourth story, ‘Reap‘ by Sami Shah, the one that most threatened to disturb my sleep, it is the power of the (this time decidedly monstrous) djinn that breaks down the comfortable separation between the subject and the other–that is, between the drone operators and the people in Afghanistan on whom they have been spying.

In ‘Hurrem and the Djinn‘ by Claire North, a Scheherazade-style tale of court machinations, it is power itself, though not necessarily that of a djinn, that makes Hurrem a target to the men who envy her. Djinn as a representation of the power that humans crave is also a theme in ‘Emperors of Jinn‘ by Usman Malik; and the responsibility that comes with that power is depicted movingly in Helene Wecker’s ‘Majnun‘, the story of a djinn who finds faith in a power greater than himself, but finds himself having to explain his conversion to his former lover.

Other stories in the anthology include James Smythe’s ‘The Sand in the Glass is Right‘, Kamila Shamsie’s ‘The Congregation‘, K.J. Parker’s ‘Message in a Bottle‘, Monica Byrne’s ‘Authenticity‘, Nada Adel Sobhi’s ‘Time is a Teacher‘, Saad Hossein’s ‘Bring Your Own Spoon‘, E.J. Swift’s ‘The Djinn Hunter’s Apprentice‘, Nnedi Okorafor’s ‘History‘, as well as the titular ‘The Djinn Falls in Love‘, a poem by Egyptian poet Hermes, printed in both the original Arabic and in translation, by Robin Moger.

Honestly, I could spend thousands of words gushing about the quality of the individual fiction in this anthology, as well as the larger picture they depict. Djinn ultimately are shown here as a reflection of humanity: the reach which, with the help of djinn, need not exceed our grasp, and the best and worst aspects of that. It’s utterly fitting that, down to the the sterling quality of each unique piece, this anthology is as fascinating and addictive as the smokeless fire of the djinn it depicts.

The Djinn Falls in Love and Other Stories is out now from Solaris, and you can get it from Rebellion Books, Amazon US/UK, The Book Depository, or your local independent bookshop.

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