This is a story with a difference — the tale of Wahid who unites two worlds without knowing it, the world of djinns which is all fire and the earthy world of human beings. Wahid is teen in Karachi who has the ability to see creatures in the night with eyes of fire. His father, a simple business man dies mysteriously and his mother Mumtaz tries to keep the family together. Wahid has his friends, his school and his social media and leads a fairly normal life until he starts seeing things. And, after his first party, his car crashes and the girl he loves has her soul sucked out by one of the vicious creatures that no one else can see.
The obvious explanation is that Wahid is a drunk driver and he has an irate general after him because the general’s daughter is in a coma — no one will believe that a djinn took her soul. From here comes the story of Wahid’s quest to bring his love back to life, a quest that results in his discovering his own true identity.
In a sense it is rather like Harry Potter’s experience because Wahid finds himself hunted both by humans and by djinns and he has no idea how to use his own super powers — they flame into action only under extreme provocation. The story is more violent and designed for Marvel Comics fans set against a bustling Karachi with trips through mysterious portals into other worlds. Those familiar with the Arabian Nights will recognise Iblis, or Shaitan, who becomes Wahid’s guide through the other world. Shah mingles Islamic myths like the story of the creation of man and the loss of Solomon’s ring with real world problems like terrorism, hired killers with a taste for sadism and corrupt cops.
Shah’s story may be a tad too violent for many readers, being heavy on shattered rib cages and eyeballs popping out, not to mention zombies with bullet holes in them, but it focuses on the themes of first love and friendship that teenagers will relate to. Perhaps the balance between the two elements, the trip to the other world and then the spy hunt for those who are destroying djinns needs to be readjusted a little – the spy hunt comes a little late in the story.
Dark the book most certainly is — it certainly goes to the heart of what we have come to associate with the Islamic world and its different layers of existence, the military, the spies and now the djinn underworld. It also asks that all-important question, how can a merciful and compassionate God allow evil to exist unpunished. The villains are those who have been sinned against beyond bearing. But Shah seems to say, in the middle of the violence is some kind of hope. Life goes on and the loyalty of bromance is what matters in the end, triumphing over first crushes and human conflicts with the supernatural.
Anjana Basu is the author of Rhythms of Darkness...