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Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn

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An Excerpt from Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn by Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Day Al-Mohamed, from Palomino Press, an imprint of Dark Quest Books. Official Release date: September 1, 2014, pre-release date: May 23, 2014

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Chapter One

Ali bin-Massoud ducked his head and made his way down Dorset Street at a brisk pace, hunching his shoulders against the damp chill that clung thick upon his person. Though he was but eighteen years of age, on days like this his bones ached as if he were a graybeard. His woolen white thobe and the darker besht robe he wore over it protected him from the worst of the weather, as did the chafiye wrapped about his head, but they also marked him as an outsider. At times that made things difficult for him. In the three years since he had come to England, Ali could have chosen to adopt this foreign land’s manner of dress but he was not willing to forgo any remaining shred of the culture he still cleaved to in this wet and foggy place. His soul ached for home and his family…his father.

Ali shivered as a late-spring drizzle pelted his skin and held the package of instruments he had fetched from the blacksmith for his teacher tight against his chest. The sun drifted lower in the sky, casting dark shadows from the buildings that edged the street. Ali felt crowded and smothered by them, so different from the open desert that surrounded his home in Wadi Al-Nejd. Lengthening his stride and keeping his head down, he hurried toward Professor Babbage’s home, eager for the shelter it offered. He hesitated, though, as the swift clopping of hard-soled shoes approached.

“My word! Two in one day. It is a veritable infestation,” the stranger muttered. “Out of my way, golliwog.”

Before Ali could step aside, the man shoved past him. Ali’s feet slipped off the edge of the wooden walk. He fell toward the cobbles and into the street. Pain shot up his leg as his knee struck the hard stone. Angry yells and the clamor of hooves and wheels shattered the quiet calm of Dorset Street. Mud splattered his besht and covered his one hand where he had tried to catch himself. With his free hand, Ali clutched his package more tightly and whispered a prayer to the Almighty. He scrambled to the safety of the walkway, his body trembling as the carriage raced by without even slowing, the driver yelling maledictions as he passed. Ali’s cheeks burned at the stares of those few people on the street.

With quiet dignity he shoved down his anger and continued on his way. Pride forced him to take slow, normal steps, though bolts of pain from his knee coursed through him with each stride. Ali could do nothing else; any response or complaint would be twisted and misconstrued. He had seen this too often and would not let his honor, nor that of his teacher and his family be sullied so, though the injustice burned him like the noonday sands.

He understood that his father had sent him to this cold place out of desire for a better life for his second son than he would find in his brother Kassim’s shadow. But the well-meaning exile…apprenticeship, Ali corrected himself, weighed heavily on his soul.

His feet longed for the shift of desert sands beneath them. His skin ached for the hot rays of a brilliant sun. His heart cried out for people who would accept him as he was and not give him baleful looks for skin that was more brown than pale. But more than anything else, he longed for his family. Neither he nor his father had realized how ill-received he would be by the English artificers and engineers, unable even to enroll at University despite a sharp mind, innate talent with mechanical things, and his father’s deep pockets. If not for Professor Babbage accepting him personally as an apprentice—an offer made out of gratitude for a past kindness…and perhaps a more recent exchange of coin—Ali would have found his time in England unbearable. Allah be praised, his situation was not so. The hours spent studying with the artificer filled Ali’s mind with wonder and his heart with joy. The man’s mind was a puzzle of machines and engineering and designs that made Ali desire only to sit at his teacher’s workbench and create them. Such knowledge more than made his venture to this land of the English worthwhile.

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