Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Review: "The Jinn" by Stephen Guth

"The Jinn" is an old horror story with a new twist.

Stephen Guth's novel focuses on a trip three young American women (Carrie, Kitty and Julie) take to Morocco. Odd things begin happening to them as soon as they reach their destination, and before long, they learn the hard way that Carrie is being targeted by supernatural forces. With the help of Sanah and Hassan, the children of the family they're staying with, they set out to learn what makes Carrie so special - and how they can save themselves from the Jinn.

So, we've got the chosen one who must prevent an ancient evil from being released into the world; it's not an uncommon horror plot. This time, though, it's not demons doing the tormenting: It's the Jinn, Islamic supernatural beings similar to fallen angels. They're admittedly similar to their Christian counterparts, but the religious background and the Moroccan setting keep the novel from feeling like a retread. It's an inspired choice and makes for some creepy reading, as Guth handles the "shocker" scenes well:
What Carrie saw next made her wonder if her mind was refusing to process the tragedy in front of her. There was a large mass of flames on the woman's back, going from the top of her head down to the back of her legs. In those flames, Carrie could see the outline of a figure tightly embracing the woman from behind. The figure didn't seem to be just covered in flames like the woman - it appeared to be a part of the flames.
Nobody's safe in this book. The first meaningful death came early (and was surprisingly gory), leaving the reader unsure throughout the rest of the book about if, or when, other characters would die. As I was reading, in fact, I kept thinking how much like a B-grade horror movie this book felt. The appearances by the Jinn, the death scenes, the pacing - it all fits. (That's not intended as a criticism. I'm a lifelong fan of good horror, cheesy horror and downright ridiculous horror. They all have their places.)

As in a B-grade horror movie, however, the exposition can be clunky, and the relationships between the characters develop illogically fast. Case in point: After having known the girls only a couple of days, Sanah decides to open up about her father's suicide, something she has refused to share with girls she's known her whole life. Scenes like that pop up frequently, and they detract from the overall reading experience.

Guth has the makings of a very good novel here; with the help of a content editor and perhaps a bit more fleshing out, it could easily be twice the book it already is. I'll be watching for any future books he puts out.