An engrossing story with excellent period detail. 4/5 stars.
The blurb: Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life by a strange man who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic. Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire, born in the ancient Syrian Desert. Trapped in an old copper flask by a Bedouin wizard centuries ago, he is released accidentally by a tinsmith in a Lower Manhattan shop.
Struggling to make their way in 1899 New York, the Golem and the Jinni try to fit in with their immigrant neighbors while masking their true selves. Meeting by chance, they become unlikely friends whose tenuous attachment challenges their opposing natures, until the night a terrifying incident drives them back into their separate worlds. But a powerful menace will soon bring the Golem and the Jinni together again, threatening their existence and forcing them to make a fateful choice.
Marvelous and compulsively readable, The Golem and the Jinni weaves strands of folk mythology, historical fiction, and magical fable into a wondrously inventive and unforgettable tale
This is a powerful story which unfurls slowly. You’ll need to give the book your patience for a while, but it’s worth it.
Less of a fantasy and more a fairy tale, the narrative voice has the dispassionate distance and spellbinding quality of all classic folk yarns. And yet the fantastical elements of the plot never overwhelm the narrative thanks to the thoroughly-researched and exquisitely-recreated period details of New York at the end of the nineteenth century.
The plotting is superb. The book transitions between countries and centuries as it switches between inter-connected plot strands but we never feel lost or need to remind ourselves where we are or what’s going on. In many ways this book reminded my of The Night Circus (here’s my review of that book) but, unlike Morgenstern’s book, The Golem and the Djinni avoids confusing the reader by focusing on a smaller number of characters and, when it reveals its secrets, it leaves all the “why”, “when” and “how” crystal clear.
The only downside of the book’s fairy tale qualities was that I didn’t truly connect with any of the characters. Nevertheless, they were an intriguing and memorable group, and I did care enough to want to follow their fates.
Overall: highly recommended if you have the time to invest. Avoid if you’re looking for something swift and action-packed.