This book was quite the curious gem. I found it through recommendations made at Smart Bitches Trashy Books, and even though I’m not much of a romance reader (the bodice rippers I read at 14 don’t count!), I still enjoy their hilarious reviews enough to occasionally pick one up.
This book, set in New York City at the end of the 19th century, is really more of a deeply detailed historical drama than a true “romance”, in my romantically-uneducated opinion. The two eponymous characters Chava (a Jewish golem) and Ahmed (an Syrian jinni) find themselves whisked away from the land of their birth and dumped unceremoniously (and literally in Ahmed’s case) in the bustling, ever-changing Land of Opportunity.
The historical descriptions of gilded age New York are detailed and incredibly well-researched (Helen Wecker apparently spent seven years researching and writing the book) but just when the descriptions are getting tedious, she kindly escorts the reader back to the action. Well, what little action there is – the two main characters don’t even meet until over a third of the way through the book. The majority of the story is filled with the minutia of two non-human beings being bored out of their minds while grinding away at menial jobs and trying their best to look just as sweaty, tired and over-worked as the rest of the American immigrant populace.
The Jinni, being a carefree Syrian hottie, goes about looking for trouble and at times his story is the most interesting, particularly when he’s scaling the balconies of eligible young ladies. You can’t help but to feel for the Golem though, picking apart dresses every night and re-sewing them as slowly as she can, since an immortal being such as herself cannot sleep and women rarely went anywhere outside unescorted (unless they were, *ahem* looking for attention).
The pair are lucky enough to not only be found by nice people (the Golem by a rabbi, the Jinni by a tinsmith) who not only embrace their stories, but do their best to help them get along in human society.
Once the pair finally meet they very slowly start to develop a friendship, even though the Golem can tell the Jinni is just a hot basket full of trouble. Still, when you find the only other nigh-immortal creature in the world, why would you tell them to bugger off?
The novel really picks up in the last third, as an antagonist is introduced that has ties to both the Jinni and the Golem and the pair put their heads together to understand the evil that pursues them.
The ending was pretty good, but only one thing bothered me – **SPOILERS** (highlight to read) the pair are “saved” but through no real effort on their own. They are literally saved by an ice cream maker who decided to die for them by sacrificing himself to trap the evil sorcerer in the Jinni’s own magic oil pot. He has no real emotional connection to either character – and the sorcerer was the one who actually “cured” him of his mental blight! Hah! I felt like Wecker was cranking down the porcelain statues for that part. But the rest of the book was very detailed and even though I felt rather bored at times, I couldn’t stop thinking about it when I put it down.
I’d give the book 3.75 out of 5. For a historical drama, you’d be hard pressed to find one more detailed and lush with description. For supernatural action and adventure though, you might want to look elsewhere.