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….
Thank you to Tor Books for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review! A Master of Djinn was released on May 11, 2021.
I really enjoyed the novella The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by Clark and was really excited for A Master of Djinn. There is a prequel short story “A Dead Djinn in Cairo” which is available for free online and that I highly recommend you reading before A Master of Djinn.
Clark excels at world building. I love the idea and execution of an alt-history Cairo where the djinn have returned. The whole book is a tangible bite. I could taste the coffee, smell the smoke from explosions, see the bright colours of the streets before my eyes.
Unfortunately I think this debut novel suffers on two parts. One, the plot drags for a good chunk of it. This is a mystery yet for most of the book nothing really happens? It just feels like an event happens, or Fatma goes somewhere to gather information, yet there is no progression. Then suddenly the book was 80% over and I’m left feeling a bit cheated.
My second issue is that you really need to read the prequel short story beforehand. Fatma’s relationships with other characters is dependent on what happened in that short story and if felt more like I was being told about their relationship, rather than reading it unfold in front of me.
Overall, A Master of Djinn is a fun read. It just wasn’t as tight of a book as I’d been hoping. I love the setting and characters though and hope Clark writes more in this world in the future.
About the Author
Phenderson Djéli Clark is the author of the novel A Master of Djinn, and the award-winning and Hugo, Nebula, and Sturgeon nominated author of the novellas Ring Shout, The Black God’s Drums and The Haunting of Tram Car 015. His short stories have appeared in online venues such as Tor.com, Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and in print anthologies including, Griots and Hidden Youth. You can find him on Twitter at @pdjeliclark and his blog The Disgruntled Haradrim.