Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Golem and the Jinni

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of The Golem and the Jinni (Harper, 2013).

While it's admittedly a little flawed - there's an awfully convenient revelation about the antagonist that let me down - Helene Wecker's first novel, The Golem and the Jinni, is a wonderful read. It's a book full of magic and life and surprises. I only dip into the fantasy genre rarely and with skepticism, but this book won me over completely.

It is set in New York City in 1899-1900, and two supernatural beings have been brought to the city. A golem, created to be the curious wife of a wealthy merchant, is awakened en route to America by her master and husband, who does not survive the voyage. A jinni, given human form and imprisoned centuries before, is released from his bottle. They are confused and overwhelmed by their new surroundings, but each finds a sympathetic friend - in the nameless golem's case, a kind, aging rabbi who names her Chava - and begins to become used to their new life. Eventually, they have a meet cute and learn that their destinies are intertwined.

I loved this book to pieces. Wecker completely succeeded in building a vibrant and exciting world around her characters, and a detailed cast of great supporting players. It helped a little that I'd just finished a novel by Steve Stern that is partially set around this time and place (see the previous post), but I was completely caught up in the setting and the characters. I enjoyed this almost completely, and recommend it with a smile.

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