February 22, 2014

Book Review Column: I Dream of Jinni, by Lissa Sloan (The Golem and the Jinni and A Floating World)

I Dream of Jinni: In which I review two books full of fairy tale creatures—sea monsters, mermaids, werewolves, golems, and jinni. (The Golem and the Jinni and A Floating World.)

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

The Golem and the Jinni is the story of two supernatural creatures living amongst the melting pot of humanity in turn-of-the-century New York City.  The Golem was made of clay to be the ideal wife of a Polish immigrant.  She was created to be curious, intelligent, and modest and, being a golem, completely obedient to her husband’s will. But when her future husband dies on the ocean voyage soon after bringing her to life, the Golem finds herself masterless and alone, now able to sense the needs and wants of all around her.  The Jinni, a spirit-being made of fire, finds himself in a tinsmith’s shop in Little Syria when the tinsmith attempts to repair a thousand-year-old copper flask.  Trapped in human form, the Jinni has no memory of how he came to be imprisoned in the flask, and no idea how to free himself from the iron cuff around his wrist that binds him.  Truly strangers in a strange land, the Golem and the Jinni are drawn together, hiding their abnormalities from the rest of the world, with no idea of the terrible truth that threatens them.

In her debut novel, Helene Wecker presents an impressively researched world for her characters to inhabit.  Her detailed portrayals of 1899 New York’s neighborhoods, both immigrant and upper class, and a Middle Ages Bedouin community in the Syrian desert, draw the reader in without a question.  In these rich settings a diverse cast of characters play out the action of the story.  The two main characters are joined by a compassionate Rabbi, a restless American heiress, a demon-possessed ice cream seller, an innocent Bedouin maiden, and a dark magician desperate for immortality.  While they are seemingly unconnected at first, Wecker skillfully weaves these characters and their storylines together, drawing them all toward the climax.  While the resolution is not quite as satisfying as I hoped, The Golem and the Jinni's characters illustrate humanity at its worst and at its best, and Wecker’s absorbing world is well worth escaping into. 

A Floating World: Stories by Karen Best

A Floating World is a collection of thirteen short stories and an essay by Karen Best, many of which are inspired by classic fairy tales.  Best puts her own spin on The Snow Queen, The Little Mermaid, and Sleeping Beauty.  She also includes tales of supernatural creatures such as sea monsters and werewolves.  Some of the stories are not related to a specific fairy tale, but still retain a magical quality, making this a harmonious collection. 

Best’s style is A Floating World's greatest strength.  She excels at illuminating the magical in the everyday, and her stories, though set in the modern world, consistently evoke a dreamlike fairy tale feeling.  Her concepts for retelling are original and thoughtful.  Her Little Mermaid is a woman born without feet, who falls in love with a surgeon who wants to fix her, when perhaps she didn’t need fixing in the first place.  Best thoroughly explores Sleeping Beauty in three separate but equally fascinating stories.  The Worm Vine features a woman overwhelmed with the world who chooses to shut herself away.  When She Wakes Up is the story of a girl on life support and her sister who must take responsibility for two lives.  Beauty Asleep looks at the story from the point of the view of the less than heroic prince.  Unfortunately, many of these intriguing stories seem incomplete.  They feel more like very promising beginnings than stories in their own right.  While some readers might find this tantalizing, I was disappointed, because I was so looking forward to finding out where these stories might go and how they would end.  Despite this drawback, Best’s imaginative ideas and sensual, edgy prose make A Floating World a spellbinding read.

What is your favorite book featuring a fairy tale creature or creatures?  Is there a magical creature you’d like to see more written about?  Or less?  Join the Enchanted Conversation and tell us what you think.  Happy reading!

Lissa's avatar,
by Lissa

Lissa Sloan has contributed stories, poems, and guest posts to Enchanted Conversation, but she also writes and illustrates for younger readers. Visit her online at her website,lissasloan.com, or on Twitter, @LissaSloan. 


  1. fascinating column. Thanks!

  2. Thank you, as always, for your insightful reviews! I would like to see more mermaid tales, not for the creatures, but for the interesting interpretations of the worlds they exist in, the alternative realities rather than pure fantasy worlds. Does that make sense? I feel that they are perhaps harder to incorporate than magical creatures that inhabit the land along with humans.

  3. Lisa's review is so excellent, it makes me feel like I've personally read the books. I don't know that there's a magical creature I want to see less of, unless you count vampires and werewolves. As for what I'd like to see more of, there are some from my own culture that I'd like to see, but I have plans to write about them myself. ;) And other than that, I hope to be surprised by reading about ones I've not heard of or aren't familiar with.

  4. As always, I prefer dragon stories. I find dragons to be mysterious, powerful and thought-provoking. A story is usually a little better when it has a dragon in it.

  5. Thanks for the review, I bought The Golem and Jinni last night, enjoying the tale...

  6. Thanks for your comments, everyone! Good points all around:)