Are any of you surprised that I was very excited to get the chance to read a queer love story with fantasy elements?
by Naz Kutub
Review copy kindly provided by the publisher. Ebook and audiobook available on Libby.
Sayyed – who goes by Sy at his coffee shop job for accessibility reasons – has just about exhausted the patience of his best friend, the buff and sparkly Dzakir, with his constant mooning over his ex-boyfriend. As the story opens, though, he sees a young woman crash into the door and slide down it. When he’s the only one to help her instead of taking photos, she grants him three wishes. Once he’s convinced that she can actually grant some of them – and his abusive father finally finds out that he’s gay and kicks him out – he decides track down his love, Farouk, and try to win him back. Farouk hasn’t been in contact with either Sayyed or his own family, but the mysterious benefactor, Reggie, is sure that by following the last traces left on his social media posts, they’ll be able to find him.
This leads to a world journey, starting with traveling to London from California and continuing on to multiple other countries. Along the way, we see Sayyed’s deep attachment to Farouk, symbolized by the ring he hasn’t taken off even after the breakup. But we also see their earlier relationship, from first dating to supporting each other and then Farouk’s growing depression. And during the travels, Sayyed has to deal with not only the prejudice against his being gay from his family, but also wide-spread difficulties in travel as a young Muslim-appearing man.
These grim moments are balanced with plenty of humor, much of it coming from Reggie, who is impulsive and over-the-top, partly as a result of her hard-drinking, high-adventure lifestyle. And in between Sayyed’s past and present, we get pieces of the ancient story of separated lovers Hamza and Delima, helped by a djinn to find each other in the underworld. This story sheds some light on the question of whether Reggie is just a rich heiress or a genie, and also foreshadows the ending of Sayyed’s story (at least for this book.)
For despite the pink cover and Reggie’s slapstick antics, this is not a traditional romantic comedy. The ending is one that makes sense for the characters, but wasn’t the one I was hoping for. Sayyed learns more about himself, what’s important to him, and how he himself contributed to the breakup, even if he doesn’t get the answers he thought he was looking for. This was a satisfying story, entertaining to read but with plenty of thoughtfulness and real-life difficulties behind the fantasy. I look forward to reading more from Naz Kutub.