Review: Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn – A Steampunk Faerie Tale

I’ve always wanted to see how people would retell the Ali Baba tale, and whether they’d give Morgiana a bigger role in terms of the story, but I’m probably getting ahead of myself.


by Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Day Al-Mohamed
Palomino Press (Dark Quest Books imprint), 2014
Fairy tale fantasy / steampunk
provided by NetGalley

babaaliclockworkGoodreads: In England, far from his desert home, Ali bin-Massoud serves as apprentice to the famed Charles Babbage. One night a mysterious box is delivered by a clockwork falcon and Ali’s world is never the same again. Heartache, danger, and thieves mark his journey as Ali is summoned home at the death of his father.

It will take faith, knowledge, and yes, love to realize his destiny, and more than a little skill with steam-driven technology. Can he unravel the mystery of the puzzle box and the clockwork djinn before it is too late? An ancient legacy and Ali’s very life depend on his success.

The story is a retelling of “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves,” which, if anyone is interested, follows the story of Ali Baba as he discovers a cave full of treasure, becomes hunted by the thieves, and is luckily alive due to the cleverness of his servant girl. Lots of other things happen, but that’s really the gist of the tale. Good stuff, good stuff.

Jumbly Thoughts

Lately I’ve been breaking my stories down to things I loved, things I had love/hate relationships to, and things that didn’t fly for me. It was harder for Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn because while I liked the idea and premise of the retelling (I mean, come on, Ali Baba on an airship–how cool is that?!), I didn’t think much of the tale itself changed because of the steampunk elements. For me, it really did just feel like throwing in steampunk elements in a story that would have gone the same route without the clockwork boxes and automaton djinn. I would have liked to actually have seen Ali solve more of the problems using his tinkering, even though the original turns Ali into a background character by the second half of the story.

Then there’s Morgiana herself. I’ve always been a fan of Morgiana in the Ali Baba tale. Something to do with the fact that she manages to hold her own and rises out of her station as a slave/servant/submissivethingymajig. In this story, she’s a djinni of unknowable powers (no, seriously, I have no idea what her limits are and what she can actually do, since it’s not very clear). Trapped by the “King of Thieves” (he’s actually not called thus, but he’s certainly a leader among the thieves), Morgiana is freed by Ali and willingly serves him in his household. What gets me is the fact that she’s a djinni. With powers. I know she’s grateful to Ali and all, but really? There must have been some other rank in the household that lets her protect Ali without setting herself down as a servant. Heck, her frelling kindred-djinni was a badass clockwork falcon. Instead Morgiana gets stuck in a rather limited female robot body. I wonder as well where her personality went afterward, because she went from “dangerous-flashy-eyed-djinni” to “bland-as-a-rock.” Even Malekeh was more intriguing as a female, and she wasn’t perfect.

Which brings me to the characters. I liked a number of them, but I felt that the retelling was much too short and there were too many characters that got spread too thin as far as development went. I loved the Langstroms, and Babbage was pretty fantastic in the scenes he was in. Malekeh was a standout character, though as I said, there wasn’t much story to flesh any of the characters out besides Ali. And even then Ali wasn’t very inspiring of a character. The only thing I knew about him in the end was that he was a really good tinker and he made the body of a perfect woman in order to hold the terrible unfathomable power of a djinni. Which is a shame, really.

As far as the steampunk went…as I said, I thought it was an added bonus, but I also thought it didn’t quite reconcile with the fairy tale. The story itself wasn’t really altered, everything still happened within the pattern, and I was really hoping I’d have gotten some major changes in the tale. But maybe that’s just wishful thinking.

3 out of 5 Goodreads stars!



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