A Master of Djinn (Dead Djinn Universe #1) by P. Djèlí Clark
Published by Orbit (UK) & TORDOTCOM (US)
Adult, Historical Fantasy
Release Date : 19th August 2021 (UK), 11th May 2021 by Tor Books (US)
Nebula, Locus, and Alex Award-winner P. Djèlí Clark returns to his popular alternate Cairo universe for his fantasy novel debut, A Master of Djinn
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 will make you hurt. I will make you understand. And drag your secrets into the light.”
ARC provided by the publisher Orbit UK through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
A long awaited debut novel full of adventure, magic, and mystery following special investigator Fatma el-Sha’arawi from the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities as she dives back into a world where magic exacted a price and nothing is what it seems.
In 2020, I discovered P. Djèlí Clark’s novellas after my friend Raf recommended me to read a short story by Clark titled, A Dead Djinn in Cairo. I listened to the audiobook and it was the best novella I read that year. The audiobook elevated the story to newer heights narrated by the amazing Suehyla El-Attar.
Then I continued with Clark’s other novella set in the same world as its predecessor following two other characters titled The Haunting of Tram Car 015. Again! It was a hit for me. When I saw that Clark announced that he is set to release a full length novel following Fatma el-Sha’arawi yet again as she tries too get to the bottom of a mysterious involving magic and murder. I was beyond excited!
A Master of Djinn is originally published by TOR (US) on 11th May 2021. Around the end of April, Orbit UK acquired the debut novel by Clark in a two-book deal from Anna Carmichael at Abner Stein on behalf of Seth Fishman at the Gernert Company.
The fantastic cover of the UK version is done by Little Brown Books’ in house cover artist Matthew Burne. The mozaic design with the lamps, the bowler hat, the pocket watch and the vibrant colors really caught my attention.
A very special thank you to Orbit UK for accepting my request for the book on NetGalley. The eBook is set to release in May and the trade paperback version will be released on August 19th 2021 so be sure to pre-order a copy now! For those who are interested and don’t want to commit just yet, you can read a free sample of the book on Orbit’s website, click here.
Usually the secrets we keep deep down . . . we hide away because we’re afraid what other people might think. How they might judge us, if they knew. Maybe that was worth considering. But there was more at stake here.
A Master of Djinn is wondrous fantasy adventure set in an alternate Cairo in the year of 1912, where humans and djinns coexist by Nebula and Locus winner and Hugo award nominated writer P. Djèlí Clark.
The story centers around special investigator Fatma el-Sha’arawi from the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities. She is tasked to investigate a case involving a cult that has been slaughtered and a mysterious figure claiming to be Egypt’s most well known icons in history that has long disappeared, Al-Jahiz. The story is full of twists and turns, stunningly sharp suits, magic, and familiar characters from Clark’s novellas.
Readers that have read the novellas will be reunited with Siti and Aasim (from A Dead Djinn in Cairo); Hamed and Onsi (from The Haunting of Tram Car 015). Not just that there are relevant things from A Dead Djinn in Cairo that also became an important point in this new book. Readers don’t be discouraged both novellas are relatively short and fast reads. You can read A Dead Djinn in Cairo for FREE on TOR.com, click here. If you want to read this book you don’t need to read the novellas but if you do read the novellas it makes the experience of reading A Master of Djinn much more interesting.
The world in A Master of Djinn is much more vivid than its novella predecessors. Cairo expands to include more places compared to before we only get glimpses of the world. Clark’s worldbuilding is astounding, detailed, and vibrant.
One setting that is still engrained in my mind is the Ministry building. Mini spoiler if you look at the US cover of the book that is a sneak peek of one part of the building. It is absolutely stunning!
Everything about the world is rich with history and lore, which are inspired by Muslim mythology, Egyptian mythology, and other African and Middle Eastern cultures. What drew me in the first time I read A Dead Djinn in Cairo is how effortless it is for me to dive into the world. It is no different reading A Master of Djinn.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading about every setting, the many tidbits of folklore mixed in with the plot, the variety of Djinn and their powers, and other magic related creatures and things. AH AND THE FOOD! The food sound so delicious when Clark describes it. I had to Google each one of them because in my head I find them tasty.
“I am many things to many people. Teacher. Thinker. Inventor. I have been called other things. Saint. Madman.” He paused. “And to those of whom you speak, who perished in fire, I was vengeance.”
Based on the lore of the world, magic existed in the world after the arrival of Djinn into the world. When humans and djinns start to coexist with each other in society. This magic is relatively unknown and is slowly being regulated to keep the peace between djinn and humans. Hence the existence of the Ministry. The magic is a double edged sword and comes with hefty price. I always liked when magic is used as something of a gamble that can instantly back fire depending on the outcome.
Relating to the magic, there are different kinds of it as well. It all depends on what type of djinn or magical creature they are. Readers will learn as they go about the variety of djinns that exist in the world. The powers of each Djinn is limitless and varies depending on how old they are or what kind they are, it is intriguing yet scary at the same time. Finding that the djinn and humans laid laws to regulate such things is beyond me, how would discussions go? Truly, I wanna know how that whole meeting went when they were laying down the laws.
“Why do these colonizers always claim what isn’t theirs?”
There are underlying themes of anti-colonialism, racism, sexism, misogyny, colorism and so on that are weaved into the world. Without revealing much about the main plot, there is one moment that involved colorism, how one Egyptian women refused Siti, a character with a darker skin tone, to enter the woman’s house. An act that is fueled by centuries of prejudice and bigotry reminiscent to real life occurrences. This scene is so memorable to me because of how realistic it is.
Then there are also scenes involving a group of white men, colonizers, casually talking about how the Anglo-Saxon are the superior race *eye rolls*. I will say that Clark did a marvelous job in exploring these important relevant themes into his story without making it the center piece of the story. Though it does play a big part in the politics and the world, it is done effectively by conveying it through characters and scenes that is near to realistic depiction to show readers that any reader of color can encounter it in real life.
Besides that the all round female empowerment that is present in the diverse cast of characters filled me with so much joy. The messages about feminism and the indirect toxic behavior women have towards each other are also explored in the story. There are so many things I can point out about the book that discuss about a variety of topics. Any reader that picks this book up will find something that sparks conversation and thoughts about the themes being spotlighted by Clark. The sheer wit and humor that is present in Clark’s writing is charming and smart. I never get tired of the “ugh men…” jokes in the book.
“I’m no lord or ruler. I’m just the daughter of a watchmaker, from a village outside Luxor. I don’t desire any of those things. I just want to save this city.”
One of the strong points about Clark’s books is the distinct and unique way he writes his characters compared to other writers. There is a certain magnetic flair to Clark’s characterization making each one of character have that “IT” factor that can draw you in and easily latch on.
I can surely say that P. Djèlí Clark’s character has depth and personality that is believable. In the novella I only got a glimpse of Fatma el-Sha’arawi but in this book we get to see more of her in action. Fatma is a well written and fleshed out character. Her presence as a character is felt through the pages.
Comparing the past Fatma in A Dead Djinn in Cairo and current Fatma, she is much more developed. We get to see all facets of her character in this book. Fatma shows vulnerability, growth, and a much more human side to her previous imposing lone wolf attitude. Anyone will be captivated by Fatma, even other characters in the story are captivated by her. And not to mention we get to see more of the stunningly well tailored and dapper suits she wears!
“… I expected when I got assigned, I’d have to deal with people who didn’t think I could measure up. Who thought I was in the wrong place. Who only saw some girl they’d stick behind a desk. But, wallahi, I didn’t think one of them would be you!”
In A Master of Djinn, we are introduced to a combination of old and new characters. One character that will make an impact in Fatma’s development as she is assigned a partner named Hadia Abdel Hafez.
Through the introduction of Hadia, Fatma is able to grow exponentially as a character. Even though both Fatma and Hadia are the only female agents in the Ministry they are polar opposites. Hadia is proper, religious, and a doe eyed rookie in the agency. But they both have something in common besides being female, they are both ambitious, strong, and full of spirit to prove themselves capable or even surpass their male colleagues.
What I like about Hadia is that she humbles Fatma by showing her that she isn’t just a sheltered girl that needs protecting. After Hadia confronts her, Fatma did a lot of contemplation that lead her to embrace Hadia as a partner. Hadia herself also showed growth becoming a much more assertive, fearless, and risk taking woman.
Now, I wanna talk about Siti and Fatma. Their relationship left an impression on me. I loved them both the first time in A Dead Djinn in Cairo but here? I love them more.
I’m glad that we get to explore more about their relationship, seeing both of them grow feels wholesome and heartwarming. We also get to know Siti’s back story and more of Fatma’s inner thoughts about Siti. There is a moment where Fatma has to confront Siti all the while confronting herself to find a middle ground to make the relationship work.
They discussed it in a healthy non dysfunctional way that warms my heart so much! Both women respect each other and see each other as equals, it makes me think that everyone should find a Siti to their Fatma and a Fatma to their Siti. It’s the reckless free spirit and equally reckless lone wolf dynamic that gets me. Let me tell you sapphic couples are winning this year.
“God the most Beneficent, the most Merciful. Not this one. Not this one.” “Remember often death, the destroyer of all pleasures,” a woman’s voice sounded. “But it is not that day for this one.”
Last thoughts, A Master of Djinn is a book that I never knew I wanted. It is a story full of mystery, adventure, and magic that is rich with history and lore. All the while filled with impactful and nuanced discussions about important themes such as race, gender, anti-colonialism, colorism, and so on weaving them in with charming and humorous writing.
I can see myself rereading this book in the future, it has everything I love in fantasy. It is clear why P. Djèlí Clark is an award winning writer once you read his books and I’m glad that he continues to expand the world of Dead Djinn.
I’d pay anything to see Fatma, Siti, Hadia, Onsi, Hamed, and the other characters again. If you readers like City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty consider picking this book up because it is such a wonderful story with a steam punk edge, amazing suits, djinns, mystery, and its sapphic! You will not regret it!
The quotes in this review were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.