Review: The Jinn Daughter by Rania Hanna

by Molly
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The Jinn Daughter book review

A surprisingly emotional exploration of motherhood and grief set against a backdrop of Middle Eastern folklore, The Jinn Daughter is a dark fairytale of sorts. Faced with one impossible choice after another, protagonist Nadine must answer the question, “how far would you go to protect your child from Death herself?”

The Summary

As one of the last surviving hakawati jinn, Nadine is tasked with telling the stories of the dead. Exiled to the outskirts of town and bound to the one room cottage she shares with her daughter, Layala, she begins each morning by gathering the soul seeds of the newly dead and drinking their juice so she can learn their stores and help them pass on to the next phase of the afterlife.

There is one seed Nadine has not consumed—that of her daughter’s father, Illyas. His spirit visits his family each morning, and Nadine spends her days traveling into the Waiting Place between life and death to talk with him about Layala. Their daughter is entering her teen years, and they worry about her future as she picks fights with boys in town and lies to Nadine about her whereabouts.

One morning, Nadine steps outside her cottage and finds that no soul seeds have appeared overnight. Death—personified in a woman named Kamuna—is sick and wants to pass her role on to Layala, who is “death-touched” after being resurrected when she was an infant. Nadine is pushed to the limits of her magic and her morals as she commits increasingly horrendous acts in an attempt to keep her daughter from Death.

At the same time, she must contend with Layala’s desires for her own life, which conflict with what Nadine believes is best for her.

My Review

Overall, I had very mixed feelings about The Jinn Daughter.

Nadine is a deeply flawed main character. Hanna is not afraid to hold her protagonist up to the light and let us see her at her worst. She is single-minded when it comes to her daughter, to the point that she will disregard Layala’s wishes in an attempt to impose what she thinks is best and commit violence on her daughter’s behalf. While this sometimes made for a frustrating reading experience, I also believe it provides a more interesting story than if Nadine were a perfect mother.

The central conflict of the story stems from Nadine’s desire to control her daughter. While she wants what’s best for Layala, she is blinded by her ideas of what a good life looks like, which causes her to disregard what Layala says she wants and what would make her happy. I think this is an interesting idea to explore and that the novel ultimately does a good job of making its point—that successful parenting requires you to loosen your grip and let your child choose their own path.

Many aspects of the mythology presented in the novel were interesting. However, there were several loose threads left throughout the book that caused some pretty significant holes in the world building for me.

One of these is the question of whether or not Layala, as a half-jinn, has magic or not. It seems that she is able to make plants grow and perhaps bring dead plants back to life, but Nadine insists Layala has no magic. It’s in character for Nadine to lie to her daughter about this type of thing, but it’s not made clear why she would lie about this particular point, or what the significance of Layala having magic would be. We never get to see Layala explore the extent of her magic, either, which left me wondering how powerful she is and what she might be capable of.

There are also several minor characters introduced who don’t seem to serve much purpose. A ghoul visits Nadine in the night and she fends him off, but he never reappears or makes any impact on the plot.

Additionally, because there are many pieces to the magic and mythology of the world in this novel, I felt that I didn’t get to deeply know or understand any part of it, and instead got a surface level view of everything. A multi-faceted world can make for more interesting reading, but there are also pitfalls to adding too many shiny objects into the mix.

So, while aspects of the writing left something to be desired for me, I would say the heart of the novel still carries it through. I was invested in what Nadine would do next and how far she would go in the name of protecting her daughter. It was a true emotional rollercoaster and I found the ending very satisfying.

All these things considered, I gave The Jinn Daughter 3 stars. | Amazon | Goodreads

The Jinn Daughter by Rania Hanna

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