There are times when you come across a work of fiction that is authentic to the core and a breath of fresh air. Sami Shah’s ‘Fire Boy’ is one such work which is not only a pleasant surprise but also grounded to the folklore of subcontinent. The novel belongs to High Fantasy category where it explores the life of a young man named Wahid who doesn’t know he is half Djinn.
There have been works of fiction that tried to tackle the fabled Djinns of the Islamic belief system. Even Hollywood tried its hand with the movie ‘Jin’ with impressive graphics, but it failed to gain mainstream approval. Sami Shah dealt with various folklore elements, famous in this part of the world, expertly to really feel the moments of panic, wonder and even lust. Wahid, a person who is made of both clay and fire, is in search of Djinns when a powerful Djinn vanishes, taking away the soul of his love, Maheen.
The story explores Karachi’s underbelly when Wahid is suggested he may find his answer from the King of Karachi. He also gets to see the inside life of Abdullah Shah Ghazi’s Mazaar and spends time at the beach while hiding from the world. He experiences life of the ‘other side’ of the bridge, the areas that are not posh, and see how common man lives. In his search for Djinns he also find out their attraction to the sweets left behind in the sweetshops and he also comes face to face with the fabled witch of subcontinent … Pichal Pairi (twist foot).
The story has a smooth flow, starting from morning walk of a businessman and glides down the years as Wahid came into the world and grows up to be man of principles, strongly bonded with his two friends. His life represents typical experience of an O Levels kid who went to school, then tuition and spent quality time with his best buddies. And that life got upside down in a freak accident when he was attacked by two powerful Djinns.
The characters of Wahid, his friends, the love of his life Maheen and even some of the side characters are beautifully crafted, particularly a special Djinn that is introduced later in the story … one upon whom the doors of the fabled ‘Djinn’ world are closed.
From fantasy perspective Sami Shah may not have used eloquent language like Usman Tanveer Malik, whose depiction of Pakistan’s folklore has been recognized internationally, but has utilized the best storytelling narrative found in most modern fantasy stories. One cannot feel the difference between the narrative of Fire Boy and those of bestsellers of Fantasy genre. Being a plot driven story it is as engaging as any good fantasy book out there, some of which are even mentioned in Sami’s work since Wahid has a lot of interest in reading fantasy novels. One cannot help but wonder if Sami Shah modeled Wahid’s personality based on his own reading habits. I have personally never seen any local author mentioning Dungeons & Dragons board games, a favorite of every fantasy addict around the globe, and Wahid is shown playing it for years with his best buddies.
Fire Boy is definitely worth the read and is recommended even if you don’t really like fantasy. The alternate take on Djinns and Karachi’s folk lore is enough to attract both fantasy readers and realist ones alike.Tags: Djinn, Fire Boy, Folk Lore, Karachi, Pakistan, Pichal Pairi, Sami Shah