The Jinn-Bot of Shantiport, by Samit Basu, is a captivating science fiction retelling of the classic Arabian tale of Aladdin. It is set in a futuristic cyberpunk city called Shantiport which was once a focus of culture, trade, and importance. Now the city has become a wasteland, a dumping zone for the universe, and a place where powerful people too dangerous to try and kill get exiled to keep them out of sight and mind. Here is where a family of rebels lives, sliding under the ever-watchful eye of a massive surveillance state that is looking for the first sign of trouble. The family is a group of skilled rogues with enough brilliance between them to rebuild Shantiport, that is if their massive personalities can stop clashing long enough to chart a course forward.
The main characters of our story are Moku, Bador, and Lina–and they are absolutely brimming with personality. Their vibrant essence leaps off the page and fills the space of your mind with the setting and atmosphere. They are all easy to root for and their clashes feel meaningful and heartfelt. Each has an agenda that is intertwined and makes up the trident of plots that move the story forward. The central pillar of these three is Lina, the daughter of a famed pair of scientists who fell from grace for rebel tendencies and is looking to revitalize her beloved city of Shantiport. Lina is cunning, beautiful, collected, and the smartest person in the room–though you would only see what she wants you to see. Her themes revolve around the idea of collective change and the difficulty of making the world a better place. She begins a quest for a legendary piece of technology that her father left behind from his time as a rebel. If she can find it, she can use it to alter reality on a whim simply through her wishes. Yet even if she can find this piece of tech, what wish will make the world a better place? How can one look forward through the lens of time and see all the ramifications of simply breaking reality over your knee?
Then we have the magnificent Bador, extraordinaire. A fully sentient AI in a monkey cyborg, Bador is a showboating performer with a love of drama and action. Despite being a fully formed consciousness, his family treats him as a pet that cannot be trusted. Yes, they love him dearly, but when he tries to join them in their schemes they screen him stating there is always the potential he might get backed or suborned. This treatment time and time again has slowly made Bador into someone who simply wants to escape this trash heap of a world and go on fabulous space adventures. And wouldn’t you know it, there is an exposition of bot fighting happening in the city right now. The winners get taken to richer and more vibrant planets to compete and Bador couldn’t have asked for a better ticket off this wasteland. But, when his family’s schemes start imploding under their feet, what will Bador choose: his one ticket out or helping the family that made him?
Last, and certainly not least, we have Moku. Moku is a small journal bot that Bador rebuilt to catalog his life. He is the lens through which we experience the story as the narrative is presented as what they observe of Bador and Lina. Yet as time goes on Moku finds themselves slowly developing a personality and moving from passive spectator to active participant in the many schemes of this family. Who knows what their newfound agency will lead to, what kind of bot will they decide to be?
The characters are the selling point of this story. Even the supporting characters are a blast. You have crimelords with bot courtesans, a dashing prince trying to change his corrupt family from the inside, a sinister advisor to the crown with a nasty birdbot companion, and more. The plot, while still interesting, feels like a secondary piece of what makes this book tick. This works particularly well for a retelling of a classic tale as it allows Basu to hit the key elements of the tale while injecting a ton of new fresh personality into the story. The big pothole in this wondrous road of a tale is the ending. Much like Basu’s last novella (which I loved), The City Inside, the story kinda just ends at a point. On the one hand, I forgive Basu because the character arcs are complete and feel wonderful. But on the other hand, sir, write an actual ending. It feels like Basu simply walked away from his desk. Initially, I thought it was going to be a massive cliffhanger to pick up in the sequel story, as the ending just screams “look what we will be exploring next.” Then I found out that this book is a standalone and I went outside and yelled at the sky.
The Jinn-Bot of Shantiport is a fabulous blend of Arabia and cyberpunk flair with a cast of characters I would die for. The ending lacks closure which frustrates me, but I still greatly enjoyed my time with this book and would highly recommend it to anyone curious from the review. Basu is proving himself to be one of the best new character writers in the genre and I can’t wait to see what he does next.
Rating: The Jinn-Bot of Shantiport – 8.5/10
An ARC of this book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The thoughts on this book are my own.