My Rating: 8.5/10
In this enthralling historical epic, set in New York City and the Middle East in the years leading to World War I— the long-awaited follow-up to the acclaimed New York Times bestseller The Golem and the Jinni—Helene Wecker revisits her beloved characters Chava and Ahmad as they confront unexpected new challenges in a rapidly changing human world.
Chava is a golem, a woman made of clay, who can hear the thoughts and longings of those around her and feels compelled by her nature to help them. Ahmad is a jinni, a restless creature of fire, once free to roam the desert but now imprisoned in the shape of a man. Fearing they’ll be exposed as monsters, these magical beings hide their true selves and try to pass as human—just two more immigrants in the bustling world of 1900s Manhattan. Brought together under calamitous circumstances, their lives are now entwined—but they’re not yet certain of what they mean to each other.
Both Chava and Ahmad have changed the lives of the people around them. Park Avenue heiress Sophia Winston, whose brief encounter with Ahmad left her with a strange illness that makes her shiver with cold, travels to the Middle East to seek a cure. There she meets Dima, a tempestuous female jinni who’s been banished from her tribe. Back in New York, in a tenement on the Lower East Side, a little girl named Kreindel helps her rabbi father build a golem they name Yossele—not knowing that she’s about to be sent to an orphanage uptown, where the hulking Yossele will become her only friend and protector.
Spanning the tumultuous years from the turn of the twentieth century to the beginning of World War I, The Hidden Palace follows these lives and others as they collide and interleave. Can Chava and Ahmad find their places in the human world while remaining true to each other? Or will their opposing natures and desires eventually tear them apart—especially once they encounter, thrillingly, other beings like themselves?
I read The Golem and the Jinni last year and enjoyed it, so I was excited when I was offered a review copy of The Hidden Palace. This sequel has the same slow-burning detail as its predecessor and that same way of captivating you in its spell. Helene Wecker does not disappoint with this installment.
We follow the Golem (Chava) and the Jinni (Ahmad) on their journey to accepting themselves and navigating their relationship with one another. They are both trying to find their place in the world as members of society, which is a bit tougher as mythical beings. They also have such different desires and character traits that they have to decide if they’re better together or apart. There are other characters that are more heavily integrated and their presence provides more depth to the story. Between Toby, Sophie, and Kreindal, Wecker endears us to them in the same way we are endeared to Chava and Ahmad.
The folklore and the storylines were immersive, and the confusion as we cover different times and locations was never too hard to untangle. This story is wrought with heartbreak and emotive storytelling, but it also has this hopefulness that keeps the book from being too dark. You can tell that Wecker took her time with this novel, fine tuning until it flows seamlessly.
I enjoy the way Wecker ends her novels. As with The Golem and the Jinni, The Hidden Palace ends with a satisfying conclusion but leaves it open to more story being told. I love when authors do this, as a reader it feels like the door is never closed on the world. These books are perfect for people that love books saturated with cultural folklore. Look no further if you’re a fan of novels with gorgeous prose, and quiet, smoldering storytelling.
Thank you to Harper for the review copy! You can grab a much-awaited copy of The Hidden Palace by Helene Wecker on June 8th, 2021.