Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Five Fakirs of Faizabad

The Five Fakirs of Faizabad
by P.B. Kerr
Recommended Ages: 12+

When siblings John and Phillipa Gaunt, age 14, learn they have to complete a Djinn rite of passage by choosing a deserving person to grant three wishes, each twin separately stumbles on a plot to tamper with the luck of the whole world. The goal of whoever is causing an outbreak of bad luck seems to have something to do with a group of mystical Muslim hermits from northern India who, centuries ago, buried themselves alive to protect the five holiest secrets known to their order. Unluckily enough, a group of "fake fakirs," who practice just enough Sufist self-denial to be dangerous, have joined forces with one of the twins' Uncle Nimrod's deadliest enemies. To save the world's luck, not to mention Nimrod's faithful butler Groanin, they must visit the worst hotel in the world, travel long distances by flying carpet, and find the lost shrine of Shangri-La.

Like other books in this series about adolescent Djinn finding their powers in the modern world, this one is filled with thrills, laughs, and a surprising amount of educational value. It satirizes the xenophobic manners of some Englishmen, the unsuitability of some hoteliers for the hospitality industry, and the reasoning behind British spies being expert gamblers. It depicts a chilling (literally and figuratively) encounter with pre-World War II Nazis who have become stuck in time, a man-made monster out of Jewish folklore, a man who has fallen out of an airplane (without a parachute) and lived, an elusive monster of the American west, and a couple interesting cases of reincarnation. It's a globe-trotting, religiously syncretistic adventure for spirits of fire and luck who are, nevertheless, touchingly (and sometimes hilariously) human at heart.

My only quibble, besides advising readers who like their religions straight and unblended about that syncretism, is the book's solution to its final dilemma, which effectively resets the characters (with a few exceptions) to their status at the beginning of the book. If I didn't know they would be haunted by déjà vu during their next installment, I would say the ending made the book pointless. But I just happened to have the next book about the Gaunt twins, The Grave Robbers of Genghis Khan, on deck to read right after this one, so that worry has been mooted.

This is the sixth of, so far, seven "Children of the Lamp" novels by Edinburgh-born young adult author P.B. Kerr, also the author of the standalone book One Small Step. As Philip Kerr, he is also the author of 13 Bernie Gunther/Berlin Noir mysteries, counting Greeks Bearing Gifts, due for release in 2018; three Scott Manson mysteries, featuring a London football coach who solves crimes; about a dozen standalone novels for adults; and the children's book The Most Frightening Story Ever Told, for some reason published under his adult fiction name.

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