Happy weekend to you all folks! Let’s kick this weekend off with my stop on this fantastic blog tour for A Master of Djinn and a review of one of the best books I read this year. Today is my stop on the Compulsive Readers blog tour for A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark!
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….
So this was absolutely brilliant. I am an absolutely huge fan of alternate histories as well as historical fantasies. I also love detective stories. This book is all these things but is also an absolute credit to Clark’s ability to build a rich vision of characters with even better characters.
We follow Fatma el-Sha’arawi, agent of Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities and the best dressed woman in Cairo. This isn’t my first time meeting Fatma. There are two short stories and a novella set in this world with characters we meet in this books. Clark has made A Master of Djinn accessible to both readers of them and non readers alike which I really appreciated. But having read A Dead Djinn in Cairo in May, I was looking forward to getting back to walking the streets of Cairo with Fatma.
Fatma is an excellent lead with so many layers to her. Choosing to forgo uniforms and feminine dress in favor of excellently tailored suits and bowler hats, as well as being the youngest (and only for a while) woman agent in the ministry, she walks entirely her own path. There is a loneliness to Fatma and a vulnerability we see a lot more of in this book. Something I really related to myself was her constant need to work independently and spend a lot of time alone to process her thoughts. Particularly on her cases. With the introduction of her new partner, Hadia, she is confronted with not only her own solitary habits, but her own biases. Agent Hadia at one hand confronting her own internalised misogyny for assuming because she was more gentle natured, that she couldn’t hold her own which just isn’t true.
There are three excellent things in this book. The characters, the world building and the mystery. While still on the topic of the characters, Clark has written an excellent cast of characters with varying complexities. But mostly I am impressed with the amount of female characters. Alongside Fatma and Hadia, we have Siti. As Fatma’s lover, sometimes accomplice she is still sometimes at arms length from the reader. Alongside Fatma however, she has her own flaws and secrets she keeps. But I really was rooting for these two! They are messy, flawed and very full of feelings.
This is a world that I genuinely believe existed in the 1900’s. I honestly can’t grapple with the fact it isn’t. There is this version of Cairo I will continue to have in my head that was able to expel colonising countries in order to stand on their own with newly discovered Djinn, technology and other fantastical creatures. Something I enjoyed seeing was that not only Cairo got this introduction of magic, it’s confirmed that the rest of the world changed too. At one point a German politician is carrying a Goblin on his shoulder, as a result of negotiations between the Germans and the Goblin kingdom for representation. I always love the extra attention to detail when setting up alternate histories because I always wonder how Ireland would fare in all this. The Wormwood trilogy did this excellently as well. But just everything from the old religions, the various Djinn walking the streets, the terrifying Angels in their clockwork bodies and the magic, I just felt like I was walking the streets with Fatma.
So everyone loves a good mystery right? Why else would we still be eating up all the alternate/SFF adjacent Sherlock Holmes stories that are always being published? This has an excellent mystery at the heart of it. The set up from the very start is always going to have you second guessing. The ongoing question of who is this person claiming to be al-Jahiz, is it really him and how does he have this power, does keep you on your toes. I was able to figure out one aspect of the mystery, just because I was sus about someone for a while, but I genuinely loved how tantalising this always was.
I want to thank Orbit Books for sending me a copy of this book for review and to Tracy for having me on the Compulsive Readers blog tour. I really hope you all get to read this, I highly recommend to Daevabad fans for sheer head canon reasons. This is one of the best books I read this year and no doubt it will remain to be. Thanks for checking in! Happy reading!