On this blog, we stan P. Djèlí Clark. I’ve yet to be disappointed by anything he’s written, and his books are generally kickass, magic-filled, queer, feminist books. I had been looking forward to this for ages, and was just waiting for the audiobook (as I’ve read both other novellas in this universe in audio and they were amazing). But since it was Not Happening, I just settled for a paper copy.
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…
This was a highly anticipated read for me, and I think it took me so long to get properly started with it because I was so afraid to be disappointed. I wasn’t in any way, though!
We’re still enjoying the same Cairo universe, with more details and worldbuilding than ever (not something you can really do in a 2h audiobook…). I would say that having read A Dead Djinn in Cairo is necessary for some crucial context (and introduction to both Fatma and Siti) but it is very short, and can be found both for free on tor.com, or in audiobook with your regular Scribd subscription [get 2 free months with my signup link!]
This is more of Agent Fatma, as she learns to deal with a new partner, and with a bumpy personal relationship, while also facing possible anarchy from a murderous impostor. So this novel was very high stakes, but with the magic system as it is, it was very believable. I also loved the mystery part of it, which I managed to solve myself but not that easily, so it was a nice balance of “you can find out yourself” and still challenging.
What sets this universe apart for me is that it’s basically “the world was normal as you know it, until one day it wasn’t, and here’s how people deal with that” which I actually find more refreshing than fantasies where the magic is hidden from most people.
I particularly enjoy that the main cast is made of Egyptian women, and that their interactions are mainly about cooperating and interacting with each other in a deeply patriarchal (and also racist) society. And the local culture is not given any excuses either. The secret brotherhood is a bunch of racist English men but it’s also made clear that skin colour is the basis for a lot of discrimination among Egyptians too. There was a lot of subtlety – and a few less subtle but good callouts too. I rarely read books with Muslim characters (something I should improve on) and it’s nice to see that faith portrayed in a positive light, as well as explorations on what it means to have another religion like Judaism or even to believe in the ancient Egyptian gods. The Inventive Uses of Hijabs was also a cute bit. But most of all what I enjoyed was really the relationships between this strong cast of women. Oh and it’s queer, what more can you want! I would love to read more of what I now think of as The Adventures of Fatma, Hadia and Siti (and Ramses the Cat)!