P. Djèlí Clark
published: 11th May 2021
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…
Galley provided by publisher
CWs: immolation, gore, self-mutilation
Having read all of the novellas set in Fatma el-Shara’awi’s Cairo so far, hearing that there was going to be a full length book too was basically the best news in the world. I knew I was going to love it and, no surprises, I did.
A Master of Djinn follows Fatma as she investigates the deaths of a secret brotherhood, dedicated to al-Jahiz, one of history’s most famous men, supposedly murdered by al-Jahiz himself, returned from the dead. His return is claimed to be in order to condemn the modern age for its oppressions, but Fatma is suspicious throughout that this individual is who he says he is, investigating with her girlfriend to bring him to justice.
The best part about this book, as with the novellas, is the worldbuilding. The alternate Cairo that’s created is so vivid and real it almost jumps off the page. It’s a world that, if Clark were to write say an endless number of novellas in it, I wouldn’t be opposed in the slightest. In fact, just writing this review makes me want to go back and reread all of them so far.
But really the book wouldn’t be quite as good as it is without a cast of characters you’ll love instantly. Obviously, it being part of a series, you already know Fatma and her girlfriend Siti, but you also get to meet a cast of background characters (and Fatma’s new partner, Hadia), all of whom are so fully-fleshed out, it’s like they could become main characters at any point themselves (and, actually, come to think of it, what I wouldn’t give for a novella with Hadia as the star!).
This is a book, also, for all its serious topics — obviously the murders, but also colonialism and removing one’s oppressors — that made me laugh out loud at points. Fatma has that kind of personable voice, that brings you close to the action, and is also humourous when necessary.
So, if you needed some sort of sign that you should read this book, you have just a week left to get yourself caught up on the series.