Zahra's algebra midterm is in one month, but more importantly, the Winter Formal is only two weeks away. Fitting into high school is hard enough for the Pakistani American teenager, particularly when a fire spirit begins appearing in her dreams, speaking to her in a language she doesn’t understand. Meanwhile, a secret cult at her school begins to carry out a nefarious plot, with only the Magic Club – and its newest member, Zahra – standing in its way. A popular multiplayer online roleplaying game may hold the secret to saving Golden Mountain High School, but only if Zahra can decipher her perplexing new talent – Jinnspeak.
That night, Zahra dreamed.
It wasn’t one of those trances where people and places seem to be just strange enough to have the possibility of being real. Nor was it a fragmented dreamscape where each object and every character stands as a symbol for thoughts being played out in the subconscious. It was vivid, cohesive, and unlike anything she had experienced.
She was standing in a large grass field, lit only by a full, red moon overhead and frigid as a midwinter night. She shivered, but not with cold, as her body was hot, as though she had been running. Her breath turned to frost in front of her, and the only sound was the air rushing in and out of her lungs.
Zahra turned to take in her surroundings, but there was only dimly lit grass for as far as her eyes could see. She looked up at the moon, which cast the field in an eerie scarlet incandescence. Her heart beat loudly in her chest, sounding like a drum in her ears.
She turned again, and was startled to see a figure standing before her, in what had previously been an empty expanse of grass. The form was a rough outline of a human body, mirroring her own in size and stature, but wreathed completely in crimson fire. It made no motion or sound, and two almond-shaped eyes peered out at her from within the flames.
Rating: 3.5 stars
I'm not even sure what genre to place this novel in. It's definitely YA, but while it has some fantasy elements I definitely wouldn't call it YA fantasy either. Jinnspeak is a very short novel and while very well written doesn't delve very deep into the fantasy storyline. This reads much more like a slice of life story about a Pakastani American girl studying for midterms, going to her winter formal, and making new friends... That just happens to have some quasi-fantastic elements in the form of a jinn appearing to her in her dreams. I'd have loved to see the fantasy part of the storyline developed more, but as it stands it feels like it was a very minor part of the (otherwise really great!) story.
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M. S. Farzan was born in London, UK and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has a B.A. in Integrative Biology, M.A. in Religious Leadership for Social Change, and Ph.D. in Cultural and Historical Studies of Religions. He has written and worked for high-profile video game companies and editorial websites such as Electronic Arts, Perfect World Entertainment, and MMORPG.com, and has trained in and taught Japanese martial arts for over ten years. He also enjoys soccer, baseball, and games of all kinds.