Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Book Review: Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn

Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn: A Steampunk Faerie Tale by Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Day Al-Mohamed

As you may be able to tell from the title, this book is a steampunk retelling of the story of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. I'm not terribly familiar with the original, except for what I know by cultural osmosis. And I'm not overly thrilled by the idea of steampunk versions of familiar stories. However, this book proved that a steampunk retelling could be done VERY right indeed.

I think the main danger with any retelling of a well known story is that you want to avoid being predictable and telling a story in the same way with merely new window dressing. This book admirably succeeds in this regard. I was absolutely enthralled and had no idea what was going to happen from moment to moment, although I did spot various points of connection to the original tale.

The story follows Ali bin-Massoud who has traveled to London to study artificery under the famed Charles Babbage. When his father dies mysterious, Ali is summoned home and he receives some mysterious legacies from his father that many people seem willing to kill for. The story follows Ali on his journey home, his conflict with his greedy brother, and his discovery of their families' guardianship of the legendary Cave of Wonders. In this cave he befriends a Djinn and sets out to free her through his skill at artificery.

This book does a really fantastic job of blending a traditional tale but making it distinctly steampunk. Some of the wonders discovered in the cave are clockwork automatons much more complex than that being made by modern craftsmen. Clockwork elephants lead caravans across the desert and conceal the cave from discovery. Plus there is the magic of the Djinn, which is woven effortlessly in with the technology.

It's always a delight to read a steampunk novel that is set in a culture other than that of Victorian England and we need more stories that handle the blending of influences this well. I highly recommend it.


  1. Thank you for the wonderful review! So glad you enjoyed the book!



  2. "I think the main danger with any retelling of a well known story is that you want to avoid being predictable..." You absolutely got it! You picked up on one of the biggest worries of any fairytale retelling and one of my personal "cranky pants" peeves. :) I know the old story of a fairytale, but I still want to be surprised and excited by new things. The "old" story should almost be little more than an inside joke between writer and reader, and then let the rest of the adventure just carry us to new places.