Djinn Tamer: Starter – Indie Book Spotlight

Welcome, readers! My name is Jim and you might be more used to seeing me write about Pokemon on this site. That’s not going away any time soon, but you know what I love almost as much as Pokemon? Reading books. And a lot of the books I enjoy reading are written by independent authors. There are some incredible stories out there and I want to share some of them with you.

The independent author space is important. It allows a venue for creators without gatekeepers and gives a platform to creators who may find their ideas and words difficult to get out there by traditional means. These are voices and perspectives that deserve to be read and I am so, so excited to bring some of these authors to your notice.

This time, I’m taking on Djinn Tamer: Starter: Bronze League Book One. If that sounds a little like Pokemon… you’re not wrong. I’m a massive fan of the monster raising genre in general. Pokemon, Digimon, Fossil Fighters, Rune Factory (Look it up.) Sonic Adventure’s Chao Garden… you get the idea. Give me a fun protagonist with a bombastic critter or six to look after and I’m generally hooked.

So, let’s turn on the Kindle and work on that page count!

Book Stats

    Author: Derek Alan Siddoway and A.J. Cerna
    Formats: Kindle
    Price: First two books in the series are available on Kindle Unlimited, each is $4.99 otherwise
    Length: 290 pages
    Number of books in the series: At the time of writing, two with a third available for pre-order.

Basic Premise

Jackson Hunt is a teenage boy who loves Djinn, At 17, he isn’t old enough to get one of his own without his parent or guardian co-signing his Djinn trainer registration. He works at a Djinn breeder’s ranch along with his best pal Kay and he lives with his Grandmother, his Mother having disappeared under mysterious circumstances. His Grandmother doesn’t really approve of Jackson’s Gold League dreams and isn’t exactly about to set him up with a Djinn of his own, let alone help him register as a tamer. Besides, they’re in some financial difficulties and the family home is on the line.

Seems a little dour for our hero until one night, he’s checking out some of his Mom’s old stuff and he gets the surprise of his life… a Birthday gift five years in the waiting, sitting alone all this time, that may just be the answer to all of Jackson’s prayers.

That is, if he can manage to maintain his family life and responsibilities, his paying job, his friendships AND tackle this new set of challenges. That’s a lot for a 17 year old kid to deal with. A whole new world has opened its doors to him, but will he stride through them with his head held high? Or will he stumble?

Only one way to find out!

Follow Jackson, his new partner Djinn and best friend Kay on their adventures through the town of Tyle and beyond.

My take

Djinn Tamer is great. I’m only talking about Starter here, but I have the second book and have pre-ordered the third, paying full price for the latter two. I enjoyed the first enough that I want to support these creative writer’s endeavors with this property.

It’s light Game-Lit (Literature that uses, in part, game mechanics and stats to tell the story. For example, Jackson can use his Djinncyclopedia to pull up statistics and basic information on the creatures he encounters.) but this never gets to a point where it could off-put people adverse to reading statistics or trying to do mental math. It’s never that deep. The world is nicely fleshed out, but without being cumbersome; enough is explained so that everything makes sense, and there is a reliance on some familiar themes and ideas that serves as a sort of narrative short hand. It feels familiar, but all at once different. Like visiting a neighboring town for the first time… enough things feel familiar that you know you won’t get lost, but at the same time it’s different and exciting and new.

Jackson is a typical teenage boy in that he’s at one moment surly and the next he’s kind. He’s driven by desires both selfish and altruistic. My favorite thing about Jackson and the way that he’s written is that he’s allowed to make mistakes. Big ones, at times. Silly ones at others. He faces real trials and suffers real consequences when he does something bone-headed, even when it comes from the right place. He can be clever and he can be grating, but he feels real.

And, of course, the moment we’ve all been waiting for… the Monsters. Because what is this without some description of the critters we’re here to tame?

The Djinn are named cleverly. Because this is a work of words, each beast needs a name that paints a picture or casts a shadow in your mind’s eye. Bovan, Magglecaw, Fennekit, Tandile. You read those names and you know what you’re dealing with, at least roughly. We have elements that relate to each animal, and it’s a rock-paper-scissors set up of type advantages and disadvantages as with any self respecting monster taming universe. Battles are described in a manner that’s dynamic and fun.

If you sign up for the newsletter for this book series, you get interesting bits of insight into the process and work that goes into this series. You also get the Djinncyclopedia! It’s a listing of the creatures encountered in the first book, and it’s fully illustrated with wonderful art.

All in all, if you’re even a little interested in monster taming, you owe it to yourself to take a look at this story.

A word with the Authors:
Jim Newman: Djinn obviously have a real world inspiration, as the word is taken from Arabic mythology. What drew you to this word as opposed to another monster myth from another culture or creating something entirely new?

    A.J. Cerna: Yes, Derek and I are definitely aware of the Arabic mythological origins of the term Djinn, and that’s even reflected in the use of a trinket to store them, as opposed to a ball of sorts. For the longest time, though, because of said origins, we were worried about using the term, as it could be misleading. For the longest time, we just called the books Monster Tamer, but to me, it sounded too generic, especially since we had the real term, Djinn, to use in the books themselves.
    That being said, the mythology wasn’t the main inspiration. Derek and I aren’t just fans of Pokémon, but we’re also fans of a Game Boy Advance JRPG series Golden Sun, whose summoned creatures were called Djinn. It was a kind of a callback to something we both grew up playing. And actually grew up playing separately. The term Djinn was actually his idea, and along the way, I mentioned casually that it reminded me of Golden Sun, and he was like “Yes!” For the record, we grew up not knowing each other, so this was pretty much the first moment I met anyone else who’d played the game.

    Derek Alan Siddoway: Golden Sun was definitely a large inspiration for our monster mythology. In addition to the name, we also took the concept of the Djinn from Golden Sun being separated into the four different elements (mostly…we’ve embellished a lot on its core since then): Earth, Wind, Fire and Water. Although our Djinn aren’t much like those in Arabic Mythology, I felt like the name could still be a touchstone, especially when you combine it with “monster battling.” People get the premise pretty easily when you combine the two.

Jim: So, we know that Jackson and Kay live in the town of Tyle in the Granite Region. Is your world related geographically to ours? If so, where would we find the Granite Region on a real world globe?

    Derek: Yes…and no. The continent and country of Mara (which includes Tyle and the Granite Region) has similar climates and geographical features to the United States, but the world itself isn’t necessarily a one-to-one correlation. And in addition to Mara, we’ll be exploring some more exotic locations in later books. We’ve got a rough idea of continent shape but our focus has been on creating Djinn when it comes to graphic design work.

    A.J.: Yeah, as far as world-building goes, the majority of our focus went on the Djinn, the dynamic of the world itself, the economic system, and the relationship between Mara and neighboring countries. Given how the world is so tech-heavy, the intricacies of the continent layout didn’t seem as important as it would be in a standard fantasy.

Jim: We see Djinn in the wild, Bobbity, Magglecaw, Felinx, etc. They live and hunt in the wild. Are Djinn the only animals in this world, or do they go side by side with more mundane animals? Is there a Djinn that fits each ecological niche that an actual animal would or do they share the workload? What about small creatures like bugs and fish? Do they exist or are there tiny bug-sized Djinn that just wouldn’t catch the notice of a Tamer?

    Derek: This was one of the first discussions A.J. and I had after we decided to write this series together. The shortest rule we came up with was: all mammals and other large animals are Djinn. Not all fish are Djinn, nor are all bugs, although there are bug and fish Djinn (obviously the bug Djinn are much larger than their mundane cousins). We even drop hints throughout the books that people eat certain Djinn (Bovan burgers and jerky). We always wondered about this with Pokemon and wanted to make sure we had a clear answer in our heads, even if it wasn’t directly on the page. It’s just like in our world — some Djinn are bred for competition or contests and others are bred for food, even within the same species.

    A.J.: Yeah, there are some bugs that are too small to catch or use in battles. Those wouldn’t necessarily be considered Djinn, but that’s not true in every case. It all comes down to one key aspect: Evolution. If a creature doesn’t evolve, it’s not a Djinn. And I mean evolve in the more magical sense, with a glowing body and instant transformation. So a caterpillar wrapping itself into a chrysalis and turning into a butterfly doesn’t count.

Jim: Carrying on with that theme, how many Djinn are there? Is there a limit to the number of species?

    A.J.: I mean, there are a limited number of them in the same way there are a limited number of real animals in our world. So, pretty much no. Like in the real world (and like in Pokémon), there are discoveries constantly being made in the world of Djinnology. We can’t see ourselves limiting the number of species, and in fact, this very idea will be coming into play during the Silver League trilogies and beyond. Discovery is all part of the fun, even for a tamer.

    Derek: Honestly, even the foremost Djinnologists in our world wouldn’t be able to answer this question! I will say here that we strive to make our Djinn somewhat based on a real-life animals, not so much objects. Both A.J. and I have issues with a few of the later Pokemon (Trubbish and Vanillite, anyone? Come on.) and prefer to focus on depth — more evolutions, possible variations, etc. — rather than breadth.

Jim: How many books are planned for Jackson’s journey?

    Derek: Originally, we had planned for the first three books to be Jackson’s journey through each league (Bronze, Silver, Gold). We quickly realized that wouldn’t work without either making each book gigantic or repeating the same storyline. As of now, the Bronze League is complete as a trilogy and each of the Silver and Gold League series will be at least three books (most likely more).

    A.J.: So, at the very least, nine books (assuming they catch on), but more than likely a lot more. I have a specific number in my head, but don’t want to be held to it. If it were up to me, each League would be six to nine books in length. I’m a huge fan of shonen and seinen manga, and the idea of witnessing every step and nuance of a journey to best the best or strongest or whatever really resonates with me. But novels aren’t manga, so I had to make considerable concessions to make sure each book was standalone enough and that each trilogy was satisfying enough to stand alone.

Jim: The Djinncyclopedia is fantastic and shows that a lot of thought goes into the visual aspect of these creatures. Are there any plans for additional media to supplement the books? Comics or merch or… dare I say it, a video game? Putting it out there right now, I’d buy an Asena figure.

    A.J.: One can only dream, right? Of course, the easy one is video games. There are a lot of Pokémon-like fan projects getting released, and down the line, if we can swing it, I think both of us would love to see that happen. Merch is another one of those things I think we’d want to do after we’re certain there’s a fan base out there for Djinn Tamer. And, on a personal note, I’d love to see a manga-like adaptation of these books. In a previous life, I worked in the anime industry, and shonen manga and anime really were a big influence in the story, especially once you get beyond Book 1.

    Derek: We are definitely all ears if any game developers out there (especially Pokemon rom/emulators) want to chat! Now that we have the commissioned designs, we’ve also talked about creating our own trading cards in addition to all of the stuff A.J. listed above. Figures aren’t something I’d even thought of but would love to see.

Jim: Djinn Tamer does a fantastic job of marrying familiar themes and ideas from the general world of monster taming series with fresh ideas and new takes on the genre. How hard is it to filter through what you want to include so that things don’t feel too familiar?

    A.J.: Super hard. I mean, writing in any capacity for any genre is super hard, as you really have to balance giving audiences what they expect in addition to bringing something new to the table. I think Book 1, Starter, was us sticking close to a lot of familiar, universal tropes so that readers could easily familiarize themselves, before we started jumping into more unique terrain in Rivals. It’s a difficult balancing act, but I think it’s about remembering what we loved about monster-battling shows and video games growing up.
    Admittedly, I’m more the guy who’s like “oh, let’s do this unexpected thing,” but often at the expense of the cool aspects of the world. Like, at one point I made a suggestion that Jackson would be someone who is only begrudgingly taming with a Djinn he’s had his whole life just to make money and sort of falls in love with it over the course of the story, but Derek wisely pointed out that readers may not fully understand or like the idea of following a character who doesn’t really appreciate the cool world he’s in. What was the question again?

    Derek: This is a constant balance/struggle. The good news is that with Pokemon being around for so long, we can take a lot of issues or head-scratchers from that world and address them in ours. I think using the Pokemon games and show as a foundation actually helped us to make our world more unique and believable, actually. A.J. already mentioned he likes to do unexpected things — I think between the two of us we’ve created some intriguing concepts while still being true to the tropes and conventions that fans love with monster battling.

Jim: Game-Lit is a newer genre that some may be unfamiliar with. At least, it seems that way to me! I’ve noticed (And downloaded) a lot more of it recently than ever before, so I’d assume it’s becoming pretty popular in the Indie author space. Do you think it can make headway into more main-stream markets?

    A.J.: I’d actually argue it’s at least dabbled in the mainstream with books like Ready Player One getting a feature adaptation, but yeah, as a whole, it’s still pretty darn niche. If you hit the tropes and expectations right with readers, the GameLit and LitRPG genres can be quite bountiful. That being said, we wrote this in hopes of being a book that could be consumed by more mainstream audiences.
    LitRPG as a genre tends to be crunchy with stats and job systems and leveling up, and fans really love that. It could, however, limit its viability with mainstream audiences. The same could have been said for JRPGs back in the 90s, which featured beginner-unfriendly turn-based battle systems. The solution to that? Pokémon. I kinda liken Djinn Tamer to Pokémon in that sense. If Pokémon is JRPG-Lite, Djinn Tamer, is LitRPG-Lite. It’s honestly why we went with GameLit as the genre. We weren’t sure if it was crunchy enough for LitRPG readers to connect in the way they wanted to with their LitRPG stories. Hopefully that’ll mean that when we start marketing to a wider audience that they can appreciate it as well.

    Derek: GameLit saw success with Ready Player One, but the big names in the genre are indies and the indie marketing strategy of fast releases really lends itself to this genre, given how voracious its readers are. I enjoy LitRPG/GameLit as a reader because it’s enough of a twist on regular old fantasy to create some fresh elements and stories. I don’t really like the super “crunchy” stuff and I think that particular convention makes it hard for readers on the outside looking in to give the books a chance. Most don’t realize the numbers and leveling are only a small portion of the books. As A.J. mentioned, we try to make our books enjoyable to the GameLit crowd, but more importantly, we just want them to be entertaining reads, whether you’re super into LitRPG or not. I don’t believe LitRPG is a fad or that it’s going anywhere, though.

Jim: Jackson wakes up in the Digital World and, Surprise! He’s a Digidestined! Who’s his Partner Digimon?

    A.J.: I hate to go for the low-hanging fruit here, but I kinda have to. I’m also assuming that we’re looking at the entire evolutionary tree, not just a single version of the Digimon, right? With that in mind, I think it has to be Gabumon. That’s just on a surface-level though. I can’t think of any Digimon character that matches Asena in personality though, as the Digimon tend to be more human in how they act than our Djinn do. So, yeah…Gabumon and all his evolutionary forms.

    Derek: I’m going to go with a different low-hanging fruit and say Agumon. The fire elemental attacks are an easy route, but I think Jackson is a lot like Tai in some aspects. He’s a leader, but he’s definitely not a perfect one and often puts too much stress/expects too much from himself and his monsters. Asena really just wants to please Jackson in the same way that Agumon wants to make Tai proud of him.

Jim: Jackson’s parallel universe doppelganger in the Pokemon Universe. He can come from any region. What’s his Starter pick from the Professor? And what’s the rest of his team by the time he makes it to the Elite Four?

    A.J.: I have to go with Kanto here. I’m a purist. For a starter, I say Bulbasaur, because I think he’s a grossly underappreciated Pokémon, and Jackson has something of an underdog complex, as we saw in Rivals. From there, I think he’d end up with an Arcanine, a Pidgeot, Gyarados, Zapdos, and Alakazam. I wanted to fit a Gengar in there as well, but I think the Alakazam would be a better bet in the long run. I think this gives him a pretty well-rounded party, even if there are a few gaps.

    Derek: I’m going to go with Johto here, partly because I never played the games past Hoenn. Comparing Jackson’s battling style to the available starters there, I’d say he would go with Cyndaquil, not because it’s a fire-type but because he is all about attack and speed.

Jim: Do either of you play Pokemon GO? And if so, what teams are you on? Feel free to drop your Friend Codes too, if you want to make some new friends.

    A.J.: I’m ashamed to admit I fell off the Pokémon Go bandwagon after the first year or so. It was before all the cool updates they apparently made that I haven’t experienced. I even fell off of Pokémon Let’s Go because it felt too familiar to the 87 times I played Blue, Red, and Yellow back in the day. Honestly, I’m just chomping at the bit for Sword and Shield at this point. I’m ready for something new here. Come on, Nintendo! Give me something new! That being said, I really do wish I could game more than I do currently. As you get older, it gets harder to find the time — especially if your significant other doesn’t game (mine doesn’t).

    Derek: I really enjoyed Pokemon Let’s Go but haven’t finished it yet — too busy writing! I also still casually play Pokemon Go with friends but don’t do much raiding. I am Team Valor all the way! I’m looking forward to Sword and Shield and hope the Pokemon Company goes a little more outside the box with that one.

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  1. I’m not that much of a reader to be honest but your reviews are helpful. Please keep it up! I’ll come back down the road.

    1. Hi, Jefferson! Thanks so much for the kind words. I guess one of my hopes for these reviews is to show people something new. Even if you aren’t a big reader, I hope I can find something you might enjoy and want to check out!

      Thanks again for taking the time to comment; I appreciate it.

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