I received an ARC of this book from the publishing company Tor.com in exchange for a fair and honest review.
In the heart of the Himalayas, Melek Ahmar, the Lord of Mars, the Red King, the Lord of of Tuesday, Most August Rajah of Djinn, awakens after millennia of slumber. He finds that everyone’s forgotten about him. Humans have their own problems: climate change has ravaged Earth and humans can’t survive without nanobots scrubbing the air clean enough to breathe. Most therefore live in giant cities, the closest of which is Kathmandu Incorporated, governed by the god-like AI Karma. Of course, now that Melek Ahmar is awake, he has no interest in staying a forgotten king with no subjects. With the prodding of an old soldier who has his own grudge against Kathmandu, Melek Ahmar decides to conquer the city.
This is my second book by Saad Z. Hossain — the first being Escape from Baghdad! — and honestly, hot damn. Escape from Baghdad! deserved its exclamation mark, and I’d add an honorary exclamation mark to The Gurkha and the Lord of Tuesday too. This novella is a very wild, very fun ride.
The setting is great. I always really enjoy futuristic settings mixed with traditional magic, and it’s especially fun to see this mixture not in the usual suspects (e.g. New York, Tokyo) but in Nepal. The city Kathmandu itself is something like a paradise within a climate change-ravaged hell. Money has been abolished; everyone has basic food, shelter, and entertainment. Even in paradise, some people do have more though: people receive “Karma points” by contributing to society and can spend them on luxuries or favours from Karma. And of course even in paradise, not everyone is content and not everyone believes that being governed by an AI is best. By the end, I still couldn’t make up my mind as to whether the positive aspects of Kathmandu are worth it.
The characters are all fun to follow, though Melek Ahmar was by far my favourite. He’s all-powerful, arrogant, and grandiloquent. And aside from conquering the city, what he really wants is a really good party. (For an ancient all-powerful djinn, he’s very relatable.) His irritated ruminations on humanity also never failed to make me laugh, e.g. What good were humans without their habitual dissatisfaction? It was their defining trait. Acting as his foil is the other half of the book’s title, the Gurkha soldier Bhan Gurung. Well, he is sort of the foil, being a lot calmer and strategically-minded. But his perpetual smile and attachment to his knife alarms even the Lord of Tuesday. In fact, all the characters are a little nuts, in all the best ways.
This cross between depressing setting and outrageous characters keeps the book’s tone light. Some of the themes raised — the dullness of a paradise where all your needs are met; justice and exploitation in a money-less, “(good) deeds”-based society; the morality of AI-government in general — will definitely bounce around my head a while. But the book itself is just plain funny. I mean, it’s about an all-powerful djinn who doesn’t think the party’s really started if there’s no goat sacrifices, hanging out with a smiling old man with “murder hole eyes”, trying to ferment revolution in a city where people quite like how things are, thanks. It’s all pretty absurd. And fantastic!
The Gurkha and the Lord of Tuesday comes out on August 13th, 2019 and I can’t wait for everyone else to check it out. In the meantime, I’m definitely going to explore more of Hossain’s older work, and hope that this stand-alone novella spawns some sequels.