by J. Kent Holloway
Review by Greg Daniel
New Pulp tends to focus on the “sweet spot” of time between the two World Wars with the occasional foray into the far future or the weird west. However, back in the heyday of the pulps, Argosy, All-Story, Adventure, and other magazines often featured tales of action and derring-do from a variety of historical periods.
I have been seeking a novel that embodies the essence of New Pulp in a more historical setting. The problem with most historical fiction though is that it tends towards epic tales and equally epic proportions so no matter how compelling, it lacks that fast-driving, linear action that is a core component of New Pulp.
But, I think I may have found something.
New Pulp fans probably know Seven Realms as the publisher of Sean Ellis’ Dodge Dalton adventures. For what it’s worth, they publish a wide variety of fiction ranging from action/adventure to mystery to contemporary paranormal and everything in between. J. Kent Holloway, Managing Editor of Seven Realms, is also a fine action-adventure author, among other things; those things being a forensic death investigator, paranormal investigator, and publisher.
In his fourth novel, The Djinn, Holloway stakes out some new territory. This tale is set in Jerusalem, near the end of the First Kingdom. Baron Gregory De L'Ombre has spent the better part of two decades in the Outremer. He had and his brother, William, had been sent by the Pope, commissioned to search for Urim and Thummim, the stones of Revelation and Truth.
Much has changed since Gregory first reached the Holy Land. He is estranged from William, who has contracted leprosy. His wife is dead and his daughter, Isabella, has only known the Outremer as home. He has lost his faith. He has abandoned the Pope’s quest and replaced it with one of his own.
In searching the Temple Mount, Gregory has discovered something more amazing and more powerful than the stones. Centuries ago, King Solomon had imprisoned a dozen golems created by one of his wives, who was not very pleased at being pledged to him in the first place. Gregory believes that once he uncovers the hiding place of the golems and discovers the means to control them, he will have all of the power he needs to leave this forsaken place and return to Europe.
Despite the various knights and mercenaries that Gregory has in his employ, all is not well in Jerusalem. He is opposed and his every move seemingly countered by the Djinn. A mysterious creature, the Djinn seems to appear from nowhere, stepping effortlessly from the shadows, and disappears in an instant like a puff of smoke. He is a master swordsman and seemingly impervious to pain. Many of the knights who encounter him disappear as well. Is he a force for good or ill?
This book is driven by multiple characters and plot points, but in a tight, concise manner. There is Gregory’s quest. Will he uncover the golems and, if so, how will he control them? Who or what is the Djinn? Why does he want to stop Gregory?
If that wasn’t enough, there is also a young knight, Horatio. He and his squire are befuddled and beguiled repeatedly by the by the Djinn. Gerard, a mercenary captain, does Gregory’s dirty work while lusting for his daughter, Isabella. Al-Duda ibn Abdul, a warlord under Saladin, seeks power and has allied himself with Gregory, but can he be trusted? And what of the dread Hashshashim?
The story moves along at a good clip, punctuated by several exciting fights scenes and the acrobatics and theatrics of the Djinn. Mysteries are teased and gradually revealed.
The climactic battle is finely wrought and it makes for quite a vision played out across the desert. Holloway concludes his tale with a fitting ending that brings resolution to all of the major characters. But, he doesn’t stop there. He adds an epilogue that truly closes the tale and simultaneously opens the door for more.