Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn: A Steampunk Faerie Tale by Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Day Al-Mohamed takes the tale of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, moves it to the nineteenth century, and adds a sprinkling of romance.
Ali Bin-Massoud is a young artisan training in England under Charles Babbage when his father dies and he is recalled to his family home in Wadi Al-Nejd. Just before leaving, he receives a mysterious puzzle box delivered by a strange clockwork bird. Although he is skilled at opening puzzle boxes, he cannot figure out how to open this one. Things get even more puzzling when the delivery of the box is immediately followed by a series of attacks, some of which are warded off by the same bird which delivered the box. The attacks continue on his journey, leaving him with the double puzzle of the box and his new enemies. It’s good to see someone writing about Charles Babbage in a steampunk setting; he belongs there just as much as the more usually used figures–more than some, given his role in computing. McPhail and Al-Mohamed also are unusual in writing about protagonists who are informed and formed by their faith. Babbage may be an atheist, but Ali and Morgiana are not; their prayers and faith are taken seriously. Ali prays daily. Morgiana is “a djinni, built by the All-Merciful himself from smokeless fire.” Both are guided in their actions by their faith, and this is treated as real, valid, and important.
Although based on an interesting premise, the tale can be slow moving at times, especially after Ali reaches his home. Perhaps this comes from sticking a little too closely to the original tale and leaving in elements simply because they were in “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.” The romance also suffers from developing largely off-screen: Ali goes to talk to Morgiana and they spend long nights talking, but the reader is not privy to the discussions and thus the romance loses some of its impact; they are in love, but the reasons have been glossed over.
Overall, however, Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn was an enjoyable read. It is good to see a novel that departs from the oft-told Western-European tales and includes a number of devices from The Thousand and One Nights and, perhaps, elsewhere, including a ritual beginning and end. The authors are happy to use both miraculous and mechanical marvels, giving the tale a unique flavor.
Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn is for those who like mild romance, some adventure, a bit of steampunk, and a non-Western tradition.
Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn was published today, September 1, 2014.
Published: September 1st 2014
Publisher: Palomino Press (an imprint of Dark Quest Books)
ISBN: 1937051900 (ISBN13: 9781937051907)