P. Djèlí Clark
In 1912, England and the Empire were no longer of great import, while Egypt had risen to be one of the great world powers. 40 years ago, the mystic al-Jahiz opened a portal between the mundane and magical worlds and the djinn were loosed on the world, bringing sorcery, alchemy, and renewed worship of the old gods in their wake. After he disappeared, the Hermetic Brotherhood of al-Jahiz was founded in Cairo by the English Lord Alistair Worthington, seeking to recover the wisdom of the ancients and the artifacts that al-Jahiz left behind.
When the members of the secretive fraternity are massacred, it falls to Special Investigator Fatma elSha’arawi of the Egyptian Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities to investigate. With 24 dead bodies and a dangerous djinn-assisted madman claiming to be al-Jahiz himself, set against a backdrop of classism, racism, and religious intolerance, Fatma is in a race against the clock to solve the case before anybody else dies.
A Master of Djinn is an intricately woven and deliciously detailed steampunk alternate history. Clark’s world-building skill is fantastic which, considering that this is his first full-length novel, promises much for the future. There are three prequel short stories which I purposely haven’t read yet to avoid them spilling into this novel, but I don’t believe I missed anything for having not read them first.
The existence of magic and the djinn are well balanced by real life issues, both in Egypt and across the world, and the narrative brings Clark’s version of Cairo to life from the very first page. The characters are well-rounded but flawed enough to be believable, and I fell in love with the prosaic Fatma, mysterious Siti, and loyal Hadia almost immediately. A Master of Djinn is apparently book one in a series, and I’m really looking forward to following them through future novels. In case you hadn’t guessed, I absolutely loved this book. A five-star read.
I received an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Publication date: 18th May 2021