Sami Shah is a Pakistani-Australian comedian and writer. His two-volume series Fire Boy and Earth Boy, aka the Djinn-son Duology, is an immensely entertaining fantasy set in modern day Pakistan and featuring an unlikely hero. Wahid is a nerdy teen who enjoys comic books and playing Dungeons and Dragons with his buddies Hamza and Arif. He’s prepping for exams and maybe going to work up the courage to speak to his pretty classmate Maheen when all hell breaks loose, so to speak. The djinn have harmed his friends and taken Maheen’s soul, and it seems they want to kill Wahid. Sami Shaw takes his readers through the streets of Pakistan and into otherworldly realms as Wahid tries to figure out how to save Maheen and why the djinn are after him in the first place.
Book One starts with Wahid’s unique origin and an assortment of djinn stories, which feel a bit like ghost stories. The djinn are one of God’s creations, along with angels and humans. They walk the earth but also have their own realm, known as Kaf. Djinn — made of smokeless fire — are real, but most people cannot see them. Some are good and some are bad, attacking humans and even killing them. Wahid, it seems, has some connection to the Djinn. His parents were unable to have children, but one evening, after some rather odd events, a djinn left a baby on their doorstep. Wahid is anything but fiery in temperament and disposition. He’s tall and skinny and suffers from terrible allergies and health problems. He frequently makes use of an inhaler. As mentioned above, he and his friends are into some pretty nerdy stuff, but as they approach the end of their school days and prepare to go their separate ways for university, Wahid agrees to attend a party because Maheen has asked if he will be there. Afterward, as Wahid drives Maheen and Arif home, djinn attack the car, causing a horrific accident. Two djinn try to kill Wahid, but for some reason, one of them dies when Wahid touches her. The other, in revenge, takes Maheen’s soul. Maheen lives in a coma, while Arif has died. Wahid’s own life is turned upside down as Maheen’s father, a military man, seeks to avenge his daughter. Wahid goes into hiding and tries to figure out how he can save Maheen. His quest to discover all he can about djinn and how to find them, with Hamza’s help, will take him all over Pakistan [edit: should say Karachi, not Pakistan] and put the two boys in contact with some most unusual and dangerous individuals. Ultimately, Wahid will have to put his trust in the djinn known as Amah-zeel or Iblis or Shaytan (Satan) to find what he seeks.
Book two picks up with Iblis and Wahid on their way to Kaf. Iblis is not allowed to enter, but he can show Wahid the way. Their quest through this other realm is filled with fantastical creatures and is fraught with danger. But it is also an opportunity for Wahid to ask a lot of questions and learn some interesting things from Iblis, such as Iblis’ origin story. Meanwhile, Hamza’s life has taken an unexpected turn and he finds himself able to communicate with Arif, who occupies a sort of post-life waiting area known as barzakh. Apparently, neither hell nor heaven are actually open (something that Iblis has also explained to Wahid) and will not open until the world ends and judgement day, or Qiyamat, occurs. Arif and Wahid’s father, who died when Wahid was 10, ask a favor of Hamza, which leads to a special mission for him back on earth.
I hate to be too spoilery, because these two novels are such fun to read, and I recommend that you do so, but I will tell you that our two nerdy friends Wahid and Hamza get to be total badasses before it’s all over. Book two ties the plot lines together very neatly, answering the big questions about Wahid and the djinn and culminating in a battle where the fate of the world is at stake.
I loved these books because first of all, they are a delightful combination of humor, horror and gore. They would make excellent graphic novels or movies. The dialog, especially between Wahid and Iblis and among the three friends, is hilarious. One of my favorite exchanges takes place between Hamza and Arif in barzakh, with Arif asking,
Were you there? At my funeral, I mean?
How was it?
It was … it was a funeral, man. What can I say?
You could tell me three virgins threw themselves on a pyre in lamentation of something. That’s why you never became DM.
The D&D references get me every time, as do the comic book references. In addition to the entertainment value of the novels, Shah also has some thoughtful things to say about religion and government in Pakistan and about Islam. Here’s hoping Sami Shah might be persuaded to write a book three so we can enjoy more adventures with Wahid.