A retelling of the Aladdin story, complete with wish-granting Jinn, set in a cyberpunk world inspired by southeast Asia sounded like a brilliant idea. The Jinn-Bot of Shantiport isn't a perfect book by any stretch, but it gets some things right and they're a lot of fun.
From the publisher:
Shantiport was supposed to be a gateway to the stars. But the city is sinking, and its colonist rulers aren’t helping anyone but themselves.
Lina, a daughter of failed revolutionaries, has no desire to escape Shantiport. She loves her city and would do anything to save its people. This is, in fact, the plan for her life, made before she was even born.
Her brother, Bador, is a small monkey bot with a big attitude and bigger ambitions. He wants a chance to leave this dead-end planet and explore the universe on his own terms. But that would mean abandoning the family he loves—even if they do take him for granted.
When Shantiport's resident tech billionaire coerces Lina into retrieving a powerful artifact rumored to be able to reshape reality, forces from before their time begin coalescing around the siblings. And when you throw in a piece of sentient, off-world tech with the ability to grant three wishes into the mix… None of the city's powers will know what hit them.
From the first paragraph of Jinn-Bot, the reader is thrown into the world of Shantiport. Slang and details about the world are presented as commonplace, plunging the reader into the deep end immersion of this cyberpunk fantasy. I was reminded of the same kind of helpless immersion I felt in Neal Stephenson's Snowcrash.
The main characters, siblings named Lina and Bador, are followed throughout the story by Moku, a chronicling robot. Moku, whose job it is to assemble as comprehensive a profile as possible of the people it follows, dumps a lot of info for the reader. There are entertaining moments of people being observed through the eyes of a robot, reminding me a bit of Martha Wells's Murderbot series. Unfortunately, in the case of Jinn-Bot, this recurring trope in the book felt like a lot of telling and not much showing.
Bador and Lina each have interesting plotlines but I felt as though they might have been better served each with an independent novella rather than trying to mix the two into a novel. They didn't seem to intersect or engage with one another as holistically as I would have liked for a single book.
The writing engages with themes of political revolution, colonization, and oligarchy against a backdrop of a dystopian, cyberpunk city. It takes off at high speed and doesn't slow down often or for long. I found the ride through Shantiport, Lina's scheming, Bador's ambition, and the worldbuilding a lot of fun. The Jinn-Bot of Shantiport doesn't completely miss the mark—I look forward to reading more of Samit Basu's writing—but there's definitely room for improvement, too.