Review: A Master of Djinn by P. Djeli Clark

Review: A Master of Djinn by P. Djeli Clark

‘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 fifty 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 a familiar person from her past, 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…’

A Master of Djinn is a fantastic read, with witty dialogue, vivid worldbuilding and delightful characters. It follows the adventures of Fatma, who works for a ministry that deals with magic and the supernatural, and what happens when she finds herself having to investigate the murder of a brotherhood who have seemingly been getting involved in that which they don’t really understand, nor have the ability to handle. She’s soon joined by Hadia, a new member of the ministry, and, assisted by her other colleagues and those she claims more personal (if uncertain) relationships with, it’s her duty to uncover who is responsible for the murder and put a stop to their increasing displays of power.

Fatma is a fun and clever character, her ready wit creating more than a few laugh out loud moments, her dialogue only one example of a whole cast of readable and varied characters. For all her pride in her achievements and progress, that she clashes with Hadia is an interesting facet of their working relationship, and it’s good that she gets called out for often treating her in the overprotective manner that they have both experienced from male colleagues who underestimate them. Fatma is not infallible and not perfect, particularly in these first encounters with Hadia, who expects better from her, being a woman who has been in the position that she is in, and seeing Fatma’s unconscious perceptions challenged directly are among some of the best scenes in the book. On the whole, she is confident in herself and has to learn to accept help on terms that may not be exactly that which she wants, and this is something that also impacts her personal life and her behaviour within relationships. She is less confident with the personal than she is with the professional, seemingly not willing to spend too long dwelling on her feelings, yet not at all unfeeling, and appears to be more nervous in situations that might lead to uncovering anything beyond the armour that she maintains to appear always capable and in control.

The magic and worldbuilding is clever and captivating, from the clockwork and more mechanical features of this alternate Cairo, to the way in which the ancient Egyptian gods are made very much part of a world that seems set on trying to forget them. The Cairo of A Master of Djinn feels very metropolitan, bright and bustling, but not without the problems of the time in which it is set – and of modern society – such as discrimination against particular faiths and peoples, which some attempt to address head-on, while others feel that they have no choice but to accept it. Siti’s comments in response to being openly and repeatedly discriminated against are especially heartbreaking in her flat refusal to let it get to her, demonstrating just how frequently it must be a part of her life. On a brighter note, there are some lovely conversations about faith, primarily focusing around Hadia, and other interesting explorations of what it is to believe and its impact both personal and otherwise. The world created within the novel feels very real, solid and believable, its fantastical elements incorporated in a way that finds matter of fact acceptance from the characters, and so encourages the same from the reader.

A Master of Djinn is out on August 19th and would be the perfect read for fans of crime fiction, fantasy books and historical novels alike. Thank you to Orbit Books for sending me a proof!

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