“My eyes snap open the moment I feel it. The magic is palpable. It tingles as it travels up and down my arms. I am not happy. Whoever dares disturb my century-long slumber will suffer my wrath.” So begins ‘The Binding Stone’, one of the most intriguing openings I’ve ever come across.
Leela is a Djinn (genie) awakened from sleep by an unwitting new Master, Jered. This is not the three wishes kind of genie, but a powerful enslaved Djinn, compelled to do whatever her Master of the day tells her to. Mostly what Masters want is sex, riches, sex, power, sex, revenge and sex. With a little light torture thrown in for light relief. Are humans really so horrible? But no, Jered isn’t like that at all, and wants nothing except world peace. And sex, of course (well, duh; this is a romance, after all).
But Leela has a long history with fellow slave Djinns and some evil Masters who are bent on – well, see above. So the story becomes a merry-go-round of battling Masters and Djinns. It’s all good exciting stuff. I really like the premise here – the story of the entrapped genie, but told from the genie’s point of view. The backstory, the interactions of a thousand years earlier which resulted in the enslavement of the Djinni, is interwoven with the present day, so that the significance of certain events and characters gradually becomes clearer. This was quite neatly done, although I sometimes found the transitions between then and now rather jarring.
The plot is wonderfully convoluted, and I defy anyone to foresee all the twists and turns. There’s a vast amount of people being captured and others rushing off to the rescue, in various combinations of characters, and to be honest I lost track sometimes of who was where, who was captured and who was rescuing them, who was definitely evil and who might be and who wasn’t and who would be if they were free and who was but only because they’d been commanded to be, but I just let it wash over me, and kept turning the pages. It’s that kind of book. I didn’t always know what was going on, but I was confident the author had got it all worked out.
The characters worked well enough without being terribly real to me. Leela was the best portrayed, but then she is the sole point of view and the book is written in the first person, so that’s not surprising. There were moments when her tragedy was very affecting. The other characters? Jered is a little too implausibly nice. Gabe makes a great sidekick. The bad guys are evil personified, and therefore entirely uninteresting (to me; I’m sure some people like that sort of thing). The child is a little too grown up for her age, but never mind. I rather liked Taj though, the ever so slightly camp Djinn. Maybe that’s just because he had some of the best lines (I do like a bit of humour in my fantasy). The romance was a bit insta-lurve, but that’s par for the course.
A couple of grumbles. First, Djinn magic is almost infinitely powerful. You want to fly, or tunnel through solid metal, or be transported instantly, or be invisible? No problem (except when it might divert the plot, of course; then it’s impossible). There seems to be very little cost to any of this (again, except when the plot requires it).
Secondly, I often found it difficult to work out exactly what was going on. Several scenes I had to reread to understand, and there were many, many times when a character would apparently switch sides in a heartbeat. Taj is here to kill you. No he isn’t. Oh, it’s Mira who’s going to kill you. Apparently not. All these rapidfire oscillations were tricky to follow, I didn’t always get the reason and it got tedious after a while. Probably if I’d slowed down a bit, I could have worked it out, I suppose.
A third grumble: Leela herself repeatedly came up with a cunning plan only for it to fall apart instantly. Oh dear, I should have thought of that, she wails. Many, many times. So ten out of ten for good intentions, none out of ten for forward planning.
What I liked very much was that the slave Djinni were obliged to follow their Master’s commands exactly, but a clever Djinn could obey the literal meaning of the order while subversively not following the intended meaning. This led to some interesting and creative twists to the plot. It’s a very nice idea, having a slave who is forced to obey but is constantly working to undermine his/her Master at every step, but without attracting a spectacularly unpleasant punishment.
I found this one difficult to rate. On the one hand, it’s a cracking read full of page-turning drama. It doesn’t pay to think too deeply about it, but the author has a light touch and a sure hand, so it all flows beautifully. There’s some nice emotional resonance in the Djinni’s situation, too. On the other hand, the constant oh no we’re doomed/hurray we’re saved/oops we’re really doomed/nope saved again cycling got tired really quickly. That and the anything goes magic kept it to three stars for me. But for anyone less picky than I am (which is most of the planet) I can highly recommend it.