A debut novel set in India 1855 that took ten years to write and is backed by a top publisher is certainly something different. But while the best fairy tales have always made their point concisely, this sprawling story takes on too much and eventually runs out of steam. A parent accused of witchcraft and abducted in the first chapters gets things off to a flying start. But this is no superstitious accusation; mother and her daughter Chompa do indeed possess magical powers. These originate from a time when djinns living in trees, ponds and ruins once co-existed with everyone else. Children conceived with ordinary villagers were known as part-djinns, but increasingly persecuted had eventually to decide which side to live on, leaving just a few still in existence and keeping their secrets.
But greedy and ruthless British traders working in what sounds very like the East India Company have got to hear about these part-djinns and what extra power and profit they could bring with them. This is why Chompa’s mother has been kidnapped and taken to England. Following in her wake, Chompa teams up with some fellow spirits in London’s East End. The author has previously researched the Muslim communities living in that area, but this is where describing the reality of the time could surely have been more interesting than persisting with the delivery of magic as the main theme.
Nazneen Ahmed Pathak writes clearly but after a while her prose tends to become over-explanatory, with hard-worked adjectives sometimes buckling under too much repetition. Sandhya Prabhat’s boxed illustrations at the start of each chapter play their part in signalling this is going to be an unusual story. It is welcome at that, but something shorter, more focused and less fantasy-based might have worked so much better.