A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark – REVIEW

Cairo, 1912: Though Fatma el-Sha’arawi is the youngest woman working for the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities, she’s certainly not a rookie, especially after preventing the destruction of the universe last summer.

So when someone murders a secret brotherhood dedicated to one of the most famous men in history, al-Jahiz, Agent Fatma is called onto the case. Al-Jahiz transformed the world 50 years ago when he opened up the veil between the magical and mundane realms, before vanishing into the unknown. This murderer claims to be al-Jahiz, returned to condemn the modern age for its social oppressions. His dangerous magical abilities instigate unrest in the streets of Cairo that threaten to spill over onto the global stage.

Alongside her Ministry colleagues and her clever girlfriend Siti, Agent Fatma must unravel the mystery behind this imposter to restore peace to the city – or face the possibility he could be exactly who he seems….

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Orbit.
Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

“Magic abhorred imbalance. And always exacted a price.”

Today is my turn on the blog tour for A Master of Djinn, a beautiful fantasy set in an alternative-universe Cairo in 1912. The author has previously written short stories set in this world but this is his first full-length novel. I haven’t read the short stories but desperately want to as I need more of this world. 

Cairo is now a global power thanks to being the location where a mystic broke the barrier between worlds and released magic into our world. The magical effects vary across countries and continents. In Egypt, there are djinns, ghuls and angels. In Germany, for instance, there are goblins.  The world-building is so rich and complex and there’s even a steampunk atmosphere with the aerial tramlines and airships. The author uses luxurious prose to capture the language, customs, culture and folklore of Egypt successfully and immerses the reader completely.

“She’d come prepared too. Just more fashionably.”

Fatma is the main character and a special investigator with the Egyptian Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities. She’s intelligent, capable and fierce, plus wears the most fabulous suits. I loved the introduction of an unwanted partner in the shape of Hadia and how their working relationship developed. Siti is Fatma’s sort-of girlfriend and probably the coolest character in the book. She has enhanced strength and combat abilities which seemingly flow from the ancient goddess she worships. Every scene with Siti in is enjoyable and more often than not highly memorable. 

“For once, could villains stop being so damned cryptic?”

The author explores a number of thought-provoking themes in a nuanced manner, from colonialism and imperialism to sexism and racism. This is most often through Egypt’s relationship with other countries, especially Great Britain, but it’s also happening within Egyptian society as well. I particularly appreciated the gender dimension of Fatma’s job and the workplace treatment of women which is also reflected in wider society. 

“It is a terrible thing, this politics of being perceived as respectable. To be forced to view your frailties through the eyes of others.”

Well-plotted and tense action scenes leave the reader breathless and the mysterious antagonist was engaging and believable. The pace is perfectly kept and the author ensures the reader is hooked by the end of every chapter. I loved the epilogue and the idea of found family and hope we revisit these characters in future stories. This is a fantasy I’d definitely recommend.

(Goodreads | Amazon UK | Book Depository | Bookshop.org)

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