I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. It has not affected my opinions.
Genre: Fantasy (Historical Urban) Age Range: Adult Star Rating: 4 stars Series: yes - first full length novel
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….
Synopsis taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.
In A MASTER OF DJINN, and the short stories in this universe, we get a really vibrant mix of mythological creatures, urban setting, and steampunk-vibes. Technology sits seamlessly alongside creatures of magic, in a way that creates complications for the main character, Fatma. Solving a crime is difficult enough without magic thrown into the mix – especially if you can’t do magic yourself.
The story itself is a blend of conventions. You have your end-of-the-world fantasy elements alongside police procedural elements that the experienced officer being given a new partner they don’t want. The mystery itself is full of twists and turns, picking up clues, discarding red herrings, and reaching for the pieces left just out of reach until the reveal. And then the fantasy setting means you get some action-packed sequences with great visuals (and much peril to life.)
It was really nice to see characters who have a few thousand words of page time max over the course of the short stories/novellas in the universe get plenty of page time. Relationships could be fleshed out, motivations and loyalties tangled. There are fun easter eggs too, for readers of those stories, but you don’t need to have read them to follow what was happening too.
I didn’t grow up with these mythologies as part of my childhood – the closest I got was Disney’s very westernised Aladdin. But as books steeped in these mythologies become more widely published and marketed, you get to see a variety of takes on the same “source material.”
I’ve seen a hundred version of Beauty and the Beast, and in those you wonder how the author will adapt the mirror, for example. Now we’re very slowly starting to edge into the territory of reading a book and being excited to see this author’s take on the Marid, because it will be different to previous books you’ve read and you want to see how they’ve woven it into their unique world.
There was one element in particular that, when it was first mentioned (can’t say without spoilers!), I was very eager to see how it would fit into this world. It adds another layer of momentum, because I couldn’t quite work out how it was going to play out until the pieces were laid out.
While the book wraps up very neatly, I am hoping for more adventures set in this world. The design of it allows for so many possibilities and stories to fill it.
Read my reviews of other books by P. Djèlí Clark:
The Dead Djinn Universe (this series/world):