“On a cloudless night, inky dark, with only a rind of a moon above, the Golem and the Jinni went walking together along the Prince Street rooftops.”
Hardcover edition; HarperCollins, 2013. 496 pages.
This was a truly beautiful, very unique book. I am so glad that I finally picked this up from the library and basically tore through it in just a few days despite having work and other current reads. I feel that the only way I can truly honor how fascinated and entertained I was by Wecker’s story is through the use of some GIFs from Supernatural throughout this review, so bear with me 😀
While the title might make this obvious, I will give a brief summary of our main characters: Chava is a golem. Traditionally these creatures are made from clay, are infinitely strong, and are bound to serve a master.
The Golem in Supernatural. Golem smash!
In Chava’s case, her creator designed her to look very human as she was a “special request” from a man who aimed to have her as his wife. Her master, and would-be husband, dies on the voyage to America right after he wakes her. She is then left to her own devices in 1899 New York City, grappling with the massive conflict between unleashing her true nature and desiring to fit in and behave as a human.
Ahmad is a jinni. His true form is that of fire, but he has been trapped in a (very handsome) human form. A tinsmith in Little Syria accidentally releases him from his long-standing imprisonment in a copper flask, and he, too, has to try to adapt to this new, rather detested life, which is like an entirely new type of prison for him.
Now, I think that if Ahmad looked like this, he might have had considerably more trouble blending in…
Chava and Ahmad end up meeting and realize that they have far more in common than they might have believed. They originally really do not get along due to their (understandably) very different viewpoints on human nature, love, religion, and almost everything else, but in this New York where it is possible that the next person you meet on the street might not be a person at all, but rather a supernatural creature, their friendship is crucial.
Castiel is an angel… he gets it.
I really don’t want to give anything else away about the plot, but you have to realize that with these two characters at the center of the story, when we are exposed to their origins, special abilities, inherent weaknesses, and the conflicts that they have with one another and the people around them, the end result is bound to be pretty awesome. I loved this book. It is apparent that Wecker is a gifted writer and it’s hard to believe that this was her debut novel. The way that she was able to blend multiple cultures and mythologies to create this story was very successful to me. I am Jewish and had heard and read about the legend of the golem before but I like Chava’s story best of all of the golem tales I’ve heard. It was also refreshing to read about a jinni who didn’t just grant wishes! The other aspect of this book that really highlighted the author’s craft was the perfect imagery of New York at the turn of the 20th century. The descriptions are all expert – it was so easy for me to picture everything: the opulence of families like the Winstons contrasted with the ethnically divided neighborhoods and their crowded tenements, the noises and smells in the streets, a Central Park where sheep still grazed, and the glittering, gas-lit dance hall…
My one small critique, which leads me to rate this at 4.5 stars, is that I felt that at times the plot did drag somewhat and was slow going. The focus here is really on the characters rather than the story and sometimes it was just a bit too plodding for me. Though I suppose if the story moved faster it would have meant fewer pages of Wecker’s lovely writing. All in all, this was an excellent read that I think would appeal to fans of both historical fiction and urban fantasy. I plan to read Wecker’s further works as they emerge.
How I felt during the last few pages (and at the end of any great book really): walkin’ on sunshine