Short story collections are like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates: you have to gnaw some nuts and chews to eventually find that chocolate truffle. That said, The Djinn Falls in Love is phenomenal. Six of the twenty-one stories are among the best short stories I have read. Ever. (Jhumpa Lahiri, I’m sorry to report that you’ve been bumped.)
The editors’s international ensemble of authors clearly did their research, populating their confident tales with every manner of djinn, jinn, and genie. Some lie in wait in an unexpected vessel; some walk around passing for human; others get a kick out of possessing people; few are benevolent or remotely honest.
While their power is conditional, all embody a raw magic that is as unpredictable as it is dangerous. The potential wishes—the rules and number vary—are Chekhov’s gun, just waiting to go off in some human’s face. This is not Disney, people! Wait…
A Tale of Ash in Seven Birds by Amal El-Mohtar
A lush, poetic meditation on adapting to survive. Consider the Great Horned Owl:
You are an apex predator. Nothing can hurt you now.
You have embraced silence. Your wings make no sound. Language is for prey, for what the wizard-nation hunts. You are not prey, not anymore.
Bring Your Own Spoon by Saad Z. Hossain
Nanobots and synthetic nutrition keep humanity alive in a polluted dystopian nightmare. Out on the Fringe, a chef with an illegal herb garden, a smuggler cum landlord, and a bored djinn set up a restaurant that dares to serve real food.
He was cooking rice on the stove, in a battered pot with a mismatched lid, something made of ancient cast iron. In some retro fashion houses, this genuine pre-Dissolution Era relic would fetch a fortune, but Hanu had no access to those places, and wouldn’t care either way. A pot to cook your rice in was priceless, as valuable to a roamer as the tent or the solar stove.
Message in a Bottle by K.J. Parker
On a last-ditch mission, an elite academic makes his way to the Golden Scales monastery to consult 400-year-old tomes by Antigono Scaevolo, the man who may or may not have found the cure for the Red Plague—which is now back, deadly as ever. The question is: what’s inside Scaevolo’s stoppered bottle labeled “For the plague”?
I held up my hand. “Nowhere in the manuscript is there a formula for the cure,” I said. “Either he didn’t record it, or he wrote it down somewhere else, and it’s lost.”
The Sand in the Glass is Right by James Smythe
The best wish is to live your life over again, knowing everything you know now. Right?
He was fucking loopy, my father. He spent his younger years as some Indiana Jones dude, found this tomb when he was nineteen. Nineteen, straight there. First thing he did, first dig, and he found this box. No idea what it’s worth, not a clue. But it’s weird. Strange. You want to be near it, that’s the shitty thing about it. You want to be close to it.
Reap by Sami Shah
Inside a confined command building on an Air Force base, an American intelligence team surveils a small village in northwestern Pakistan using a MQ-9 Reaper drone. After seven weeks, they know when and where every single villager takes a piss. Then a little girl goes missing. Nothing they can do but watch.
They knew that eleven children lived in House 4, each a year apart. They’d given them all names as well, and could tell them apart just by how they moved. Grant took attendance whenever they left for school in the morning: Mickey, Mikey, Molly, Marty, Mel, Micah, Marcus, Mario, Milo, Miriam, and Ray. He hoped they’d be at school on the day he was asked to laser-light one of the houses, targeting it for a Hellfire missile.
Majnun by Helene Wecker
An exorcist and a jinniyah sort out their complicated history. Go in cold.
Ignore the smile, ignore the endearment he never quite liked but still years to hear again. Majnun, crazy man, possessed one. Her little joke.
Highly recommended if you like your genies fierce and your short stories sharp. Hat tip to ElCicco for the review.