Hello Humans! Welcome to the review for a book that before December of 2020 would probably not have really been on my radar – but some reading in late 2020 pushed it way up onto my must read list. A Master of Djinn is the first full length novel in P. Djèlí Clark’s Fatma el-Sha’arawi series set in an alternate 1900s Cairo. These books are basically everything I want in the entire world so prepare for a wax lyrical 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.Find on Goodreads | Amazon (Affiliate)
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’ll kick off with what I think will be the biggest question people have before picking up this book: Do you need to read A Dead Djinn in Cairo or The Haunting of Tram Car 015 before picking this up?
My head says no, this book will take you into the world and I think almost all the information you might need is explained to you within the novel.
But my heart says yes. I would say at the very least go and read A Dead Djinn in Cairo because it’s not very long and you can (legally) read it for free online. I would also highly recommend picking up The Haunting of Tram Car 015 because it is utterly amazing but there is less overlap between that book and this one. You’d be doing yourself a disservice to not read the entire series but I suppose in a pinch you could and it wouldn’t spoil the reading experience (though I can’t promise it won’t include spoilers).
I think my favourite aspect of all three works has to be the worldbuilding. Clark conjures up this alternate world where all is magic and at the same time steampunk and also strangely past and future all at the same time. It’s the perfect place in which to set a mystery novel because we get to explore some of the ways in which this world works and how everything functions. There’s also that twist on the classic mystery novel usually featuring white detectives imposing a western eye on things. Compare the world Clark creates with the Egypt that features in, for example, Death on the Nile. There’s something very empowering about the setting, and the novel doesn’t shy away from some of the implications of this – particularly in the British view of Egyptian power.
The lynchpin of any detective novel is of course the detective so let’s discuss Fatma el-Sha’arawi.
Put simply I adore her.
I was captivated by her in A Dead Djinn in Cairo and I continue to love her in this book. The novel also brings in the dynamic of Fatma having to deal with a partner. I loved the way that relationship is managed throughout the book and it’ll be interesting to see if there are more books set in this world if she is a more fleeting character or if this is a detecting duo? Fatma is everything I love in a protagonist, she’s sharp, she’s witty and she’s putty in the hands of a particularly beautiful woman – sigh. I’d read any genre if Fatma were the main character.
I don’t know if any other mystery lovers out there will agree with me but I feel there are essentially two ways in which a mystery novel can hit the spot. 1) I can guess who the culprit is before the reveal and I get the joyous dramatic irony coupled with the delight at being right. 2) I guess incorrectly but it’s such a good reveal I don’t even care. In this case I won’t tell you which one it is on the off chance that ruins the experience for you but it did definitely hit the spot as far as mystery was concerned.
I think everyone should read this, and read the other books too. I cannot recommend this highly enough. I have a suspicion it will make it to one of my top 10 books of 2021 list and it’s only early January when I’m writing this review…
My rating: 5/5 stars
I received a free digital copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley – all opinions are my own.
A Master of Djinn publishes May 11th!