Thoroughly enjoyed reading Ed McDonald’s Black Wing, a work set in a fantasy world where Deep Kings and Nameless Demi-Gods vie for control in a eternal war that has been ongoing for millennia with no signs of stopping. It’s a fast paced hot and gritty novel full of action and a noirish and grimdark cast of characters. The main character is a Bounty hunter Ryhalt Galharrow, a Captain in the Black Wing’s a small mercenary organization run by one of the Nameless: Crowfoot.
Ryhalt is a fallen aristocrat, a man who after killing a rival long ago in his youth, driven out of his family – disowned and exiled, has made his home on the edge of the Misery. The Misery is a no-man’s land of toxic and terrible magicks, a DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) that separates human civilization from the Kingdoms of Old Dhojara where the Deep Kings and their minions hold sway. The Misery itself was produced by the destruction in the last great war by a Nameless who blasted it with a dark and voidic magick which left the lands scarred and poisonous, a region where strange and bewildering creatures roam so full of vile and degrading corruption that humans who venture too far into those realms are usually never heard from again.
“Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.”
― Tavern Gloks
The first time I met Mulg the Giant was in the Crimson Djinn. I’d been slugging down some of the best Zagrozian ale this side of the Sindariian snake pits of lower Tigal. And believe me it was good, and smooth; just like I like it. I was shitfaced to say the least; almost ready to pass out, but not quite. Mirii was whispering something about her place, which didn’t sound too bad the way I was feeling. I was almost ready to take her up on her offer when a trader by the name of Chot Godin slammed into my table spilling drinks, food, and Mirii into a heap. I jumped up like a fool, grabbed him by his jerkin, and was about to toss him back where he’d come from when Mulg appeared before us. I’d never seen such a big man before, his fist all balled up like a twisted iron kettle. None too happy, either.
His thick neck and bull’s head almost touched the tavern’s ceiling, his bushy locks oiled like the desert jinn fell down in knotted ringlets around his wide-set shoulders, where small skull bones and other strange pagan stonework’s bunched up against his roiling flesh. His blood red eyes were so full of piss and vinegar I thought they’d burst out in flames. He rammed his balled up fists down on the table between us with such force the two traders that had been sitting there bounced up and back three feet as the boards yawed and flipped. This wasn’t going to go down well. I could see that now.
Quirky. Strange. Off-the-wall funny in places. Reading Tahir Shah’s opening gambit in a trilogy series on the life and times of a reluctant Jinn Hunter is to say the least a joy to read. If you’ve wandered through the pages of Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear, their mad-cap adventures into symbolic logic and non-sense realities, then this is a book for you. It’s hard to place it as children’s literature, or even the faddish Young Adult YA type fiction, instead it seems to be a real throw-back to those ancient tales of the desert, The Arabian Night’s Tales that Andrew Lang, Sir Richard Burton, and in our modern age the likes of Muhsin Mahdi, Malcom Lyons, and so many others have translated. And, yet, not quite; not quite like these endless tales and narratives. A little something different and strange…
Tahir Shah himself, whose father was the Sufi teacher and writer Idries Shah, born in London grew up in largely in the county of Kent, where his family lived at Langton House, a Georgian mansion in the village of Langton Green near Royal Tunbridge Wells. He mingled at an early age with many of his father’s famous friends like the poet Robert Graves, and Doris Lessing whose Canopus in Argos: Archives series would be heavily influenced by the Sufi traditions of Shah’s father. During his childhood, Shah and his sisters would be taken to Morocco for extended periods, where his grandfather lived until his death in November 1969. Described in his book The Caliph’s House, the journeys introduced Shah to “a realm straight out of The Arabian Nights.” Tahir Shah is a prolific author of books, documentaries, book introductions, peer reviewed academic articles, and book reviews. The vast majority of Shah’s books can be considered travel literature, most of it collected in The Complete Collection of Travel Literature: In Search of King Solomon’s Mines, Beyond the Devil’s Teeth, House of the Tiger King, Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Travels With Myself, Trail of Feathers. (wiki)
Contemporary Jinn Novels and Stories
Saad Z. Hossain – Djinn City
Indelbed is a lonely kid living in a crumbling mansion in super dense, super chaotic Dhaka. His father, Dr. Kaikobad, is the black sheep of their clan, the once illustrious Khan Rahman family. A drunken loutish widower, he refuses to allow Indelbed to go to school, and the only thing Indelbed knows about his mother is the official cause of her early demise: ‘Death by Indelbed’.
But when Dr. Kaikobad falls into a supernatural coma, Indelbed and his older cousin, the wise-cracking slacker, Rais, learn that Indelbed’s dad was, in fact, a magician and a trusted emissary to the djinn world. But the djinns, it turns out, are displeased and one of the consequences of their displeasure is that a ‘hunt’ is announced with ten-year-old Indelbed as prey. Still reeling from the fact that genies actually exist, Indelbed finds himself on the run. Soon, the boys are at the center of a great djinn controversy, one tied to the continuing fallout from an ancient war, with ramifications for the future of life as we know it.
Djinn City is a darkly comedic fantasy adventure, and a brilliant follow-up to Saad Z. Hossain’s acclaimed first novel Escape from Baghdad!
Added another work of the Jinn to my list this last week: The Amulets of Sihir by Abu Bilaal Yakub. Unlike the previous work I wrote of last week this one is not about ghul hunters, but rather about the dark powers of ancient sorceries themselves and how they can envelope humanity in a web of consequences not easily controlled nor overcome. At the center of this epic fantasy is a young black smith, Mukhtar:
Like his elder brother, Mukhtar possessed no less a rebellious trait, but coerced by reality, he adapted an early maturity, and his cunningness and tenacity helped him persevere. Fatherless for the better part of his life, he grew up poor but healthy, destitute but happy, and life taught him what he needed to know. Mika’il Abaraina, married to Suha’s elder sister, had taken custody of Harun Zafar’s forge, and it was under his watchful eye that Mukhtar earned his livelihood as an apprentice blacksmith.1
I just finished this desert fantasy tale by Saladin Ahmed ‘Throne of the Crescent Moon’. It’s a light fantasy in the Arabian Nights sense of the word. A tale that involves strange and monstrous creatures of magic, but also fun loving characters who parade their human foibles and idiosyncrasies. Doctor ADOULLA MAKHSLOOD is the central character, whose compassion and pride for his city become the focal point of the tale. An old ghul hunter at the end of his days, tired, burnt out, and yet still willing to fulfill a sense of honor and pride to protect the people of his city, Dhamsawaat. That to me is the core of the book, this old man’s love of his city and the need to protect it. He’s sacrificed years of existence from becoming a husband and living a normal existence because of this profession as a professional ghul hunter.