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 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.