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Uh-oh, look out guys, it's a *love story*!
But relax, it's not exactly the usual version. At the age of 12, Chamat Gul'Agdar, princess of Dhagabad, inherits from her grandmother a bronze bottle. Inside is Hasan, a djinn. Once he's out, Chamat hasn't the heart to order him back into the bottle. And he's hers to order. Princess or not, she's not at the top of the pecking order, and a djinn to command is heady stuff, though she's told to order him in only certain ways. It helps that he's young (looking) and well made. When she's 12, he's a big brother that has to do what she says, and a fun, though innocent, toy. Later, she grows into the idea that he can be more, and amor vincit omnia (love conquers all). At least in this book, which is Book 1 of The Spirits of the Ancient Sands.
Hasan is actually two thousand years old. He was a young but powerful mage, who sought for knowledge, and found it. He achieved ultimate knowledge and power: But, as he turned the last page, zap! His body is gone and he's a slave to whoever holds his bottle. The price of ultimate power is slavery, the power usable only at someone else's order. This is automatic, like the "Be not" rule in Eddings' Belgariad. He even has to be ordered to defend himself against a sorcerous attack.
The princess has a series of growth experiences, some at the order of her parents and nannies, such as access to parts of the palace she's never seen, like the audience hall of her father the sultan, whose only heir she is. Others are on the sly, by Hasan's power, such as visits to long-suppressed ancient temples and to the Island of the Elements. In these encounters, she meets people from Hasan's past.
The snake in her garden is the fact that, as the heir to Dhagabad, she is expected to enter an arranged marriage for the sake of Dhagabad and her dynasty. The chosen mate is Prince Amir of Veridue. He's nice enough, and good looking to, except that he expects her to be a trophy wife and follow the Veridue line on things like djinns. (They're evil and not to be trusted.) Enter love, true love, and an upset applecart isn't hard to foresee.
The world is more or less that of the Arabian Nights, but not of the Muslim era. The names are Middle Eastern, and mosques are mentioned, but so are gods, plural.
It's a love story, not a sex story.
The author was born in Russia, and now lives in Philadelphia. I had not heard of her before or her publisher, Dragonwell, but the book comes with recommendations from Poul Anderson, Harry Turtledove, Locus and Booklist. I agree: 4-and-a-half stars.
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