(Reviewed for Little, Brown Book Group Ltd from a free copy supplied by Netgalley.com)
First, the cover blurb…
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 . . .
P. Djèlí Clark is the winner of the Nebula, Locus, and Alex Awards and has been shortlisted for the Hugo Award.
What an original take on steampunk!
This story is set in an alternative 1920s Cairo, where fantastic engineering and architecture have been constructed by the many resident djinn. I’ve never visited the city – not in modern times nor the 1920s – but the atmosphere of the city’s fragrant backstreets and alleys, seedy jazz clubs and homely cafes feels very authentic (although a glossary of the Arabic/Egyptian/Sudanese terms would have been really useful). If I hadn’t been reading an ebook version I would have missed out on lots of cultural references, but “praise be!” for my Kindle’s built-in online look-up and dictionaries.
The main protagonist, Agent Fatma el-Sha’awari, is very experienced for twenty-four, a really snappy dresser and has killer moves with her swordstick. This new case centres around a secret society murdered in its entirety in mysterious circumstances. There are few witnesses, but it is, however, clear that magic was involved.
Agent Fatma has relationships that were cemented during the ordeals of a previous adventure, and you are given just enough details of the earlier problems to aid understanding, but not so many that it isn’t worth going back to read A Dead Djinn in Cairo, the novella that first features Fatma and her colleagues.
As the current investigation proceeds, it becomes clear that Agent Fatma and the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities may be totally out of their depth, and there’s a danger that Cairo, Egypt, North Africa, the entire globe even, could be at risk of collapse and descent into total chaos.
A Master of Djinn is a thoroughly enjoyable, fast-moving, non-stop chase through this world of agents, ancient gods, djinn of all sorts, ghouls, “angels” and the colonial upper crust, and I hope very much to see this series continue.