Published by Palomino Press on May 2014
Genres: Fairytale Retelling, Fantasy, Steampunk
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Come, Best Beloved, and sit you by my feet. I shall tell you a tale such as sister Scheherazade could have scarce imagined. A tale of wonders, of deeds both great and grievous, of courage that defies description, and above all, Child of Adam, I shall tell you a tale of love.
The night is for the telling of tales to which the morning may bear Truth. In the oldest of days and ages and times, there was, and there was not, a great evil that reached across the desert and beyond…
In the Nejd there is nothing at all…except secrets. A band of thieves wish such secrets to remain hidden.
In England, far from his desert home, Ali bin-Massoud serves as apprentice to the famed Charles Babbage. One night a mysterious box is delivered by a clockwork falcon and Ali’s world is never the same again. Heartache, danger, and thieves mark his journey as Ali is summoned home at the death of his father.
It will take faith, knowledge, and yes, love to realize his destiny, and more than a little skill with steam-driven technology. Can he unravel the mystery of the puzzle box and the clockwork djinn before it is too late? An ancient legacy and Ali's very life depend on his success.
Hear you the tale of Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn.
Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn is based on the famous tale from One Thousand and One Arabian Nights, complete with forty thieves and the treasure cave that opens to “open sesame”. In addition, steampunk machinery, magical beings plus a healthy helping of Arabian and Islamic culture make it a rich and beautiful story.
Ali bin-Massoud is studying engineering in London with Charles Babbage when he receives a strange puzzle box from an amazing clockwork visitor. He also receives news of his beloved father’s death and with it, a summons from his brother in Arabia, so he begins the arduous journey in an airship to return home. But who are the strange attackers intent on doing him harm, and what secrets from his grandfather’s legacy lie under the Arabian sands?
Ali is a patient, intelligent and kind man who I felt sorry for early on in the story – he suffers plenty of ill-treatment in London for being a foreigner, but as the story progressed it was nice to see his kindness and honourable nature bringing him out on top. Nice guys don’t always finish last, after all.
At odds with Ali’s good nature are the almost cartoonish baddies in the story. Ali’s brother is so evil, I just wanted to slap him, and the evil sorcerer made my skin crawl. I’m not usually one for strictly black and white alignments but it fits well here within the fairytale framework.
This book is rich with aspects of Islamic and Arabian culture. I won’t discuss those any further because I don’t know a lot about these cultures and wouldn’t want to get anything wrong, but I enjoyed the Arabian “flavour” of the writing. The story is told just like one of Scheherazade’s tales, in a grandiose storytelling style. I found it a bit awkward to read at first but quite beautiful once you get into it.
The steampunk aspects of the story are not too overpowering – most of the story takes place in the Arabian desert, after all. There are airships and mechanical “Camelids”, but there are also magical clockwork beings that weren’t made by the usual tinker’s tools. The story tied up well, although I’ll admit to feeling slightly disappointed by the “happily ever after” nature of it (that may sound awful but have a read and tell me if you agree!).
Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn is a magical and beautifully-told tale. It might be a bit scary for young readers but older readers will enjoy it.