A Master of Djinn

One of my most anticipated books of May was A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark. Although this is the first full-length novel in the Dead Djinn Universe series, it was preceded by three novellas. (I haven’t read them yet, but they’re on my list now.) In the end, I picked up the audiobook version of A Master of Djinn and loved it! So much so that I may have to buy myself a physical copy of the book now; I’ll also need to read those three novellas soon.

A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark
SeriesDead Djinn Universe (#1)
NarratorSuehyla El-Attar
AudienceAdult
GenreFantasy; Historical Fantasy
SettingCairo, Egypt
Book Length15.7 hours; 392 pages
Format I ReadAudiobook
Original Publication DateMay 11, 2021

Official Summary

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….

Review

From the very first chapter of A Master of Djinn, I was completely engrossed. For me this is actually quite the feat, because it often takes a few chapters to get fully invested in the characters in a story. But not so here; P. Djèlí Clark had my full attention right from the beginning.

After setting the stage with an exciting opening of supernatural intrigue and murder, the rest of the book follows Fatma, an agent at the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities. It’s clear that she knows how to talk to – and negotiate with – all kinds of djinn, but when she embarks on this new case, she may be in a bit over her head. She reluctantly has to work with a new partner, Hadia, as well as her lover, Siti.

One thing I love about A Master of Djinn is how it’s led by three strong women. Fatma, Hadia, and Siti are all intelligent and brave, and they know how to fight when needed. They’re thoughtful and clever and, moreover, resilient. Of course, they’re not perfect. Fatma can be rather stubborn and insensitive, and it takes her some time to warm up to her new partner. But over the course of the book, there is character growth and relationship development.

Speaking of relationships: Fatma and Siti are two women whose relationship is turning more serious. Just occasional lovers… or a committed partnership? It was great to see a sapphic romance here, and for it to be readily accepted in this fantasy version of 1912 Cairo.

A Master of Djinn offers some excellent world building, and I enjoyed seeing how djinn have integrated with people in Egypt and elsewhere. Lately I’ve developed a particular interest in djinn, and it was fun to see so many different types of djinn here. We get to know different djinn magics and personality traits and personal goals. This books also incorporates angels and ghouls, plus spells and different rules of magical governance. There is a lot happening in this world, and it keeps the book exciting and captivating.

Of course, the focus here is on al-Jahiz, the mysterious and powerful masked man who is terrorizing Cairo. Could he really be the historical figure that was was important in decades past? Or is he a strangely convincing and dangerous impostor? If the latter, how is he able to control these djinn? What magic is that potent?

Fatma and Hadia have a hard time pinning down al-Jahiz, but they do their best, criss-crossing Cairo, talking with a range of helpful subjects, and fighting evil when attacks suddenly come up. It’s kind of a detective mystery, but more steampunk and fantastical.

Beyond the action-packed mystery, I also enjoyed some of the social and political elements that arose in the story. First, Fatma offers a feminist perspectives on several topics. Despite her evident feminism, though, Hadia has to challenge her on her treatment of other women she works with. It’s a great conversation and a turning point in their professional relationship (and possibly friendship). We also get to see a fair amount of politics – from international leaders to the binding laws made between angels and djinn. Finally, I appreciated the discussions of bigotry, whether against people of a different race, religion, or… species. Humans and djinn and half-djinn don’t always respect or understand each other. I enjoyed when these prejudices were challenged.

All in all, I loved A Master of Djinn. I must also say, the audiobook narrator – Suehyla El-Attar – did an amazing performance. I can’t speak to the accuracy of her pronunciation or accent, but the voice acting was top notch. She uses distinctive voices for each character, making them all quickly identifiable. She also infuses every line with such energy and passion. I was thoroughly engrossed by her performance, and she really made this novel that much more invigorating. She may be the very best audiobook narrator I’ve listened to yet.

Final Thoughts

A Master of Djinn is an exciting, magical, and mysterious book full of intrigue and fun. With its strong women characters and exploration of djinn, it was a thoroughly enjoyable read (and listen). I’ll have to go back and read the three novellas that preceded this book, and I’ll certainly keep my eye out for more in this series and from P. Djèlí Clark overall.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

About the Author

P. Djèlí Clark - credit Le Image Inc. Brooklyn NY

Phenderson Djéli Clark is the award winning and Hugo, Nebula, Sturgeon, and World Fantasy nominated author of the novel A Master of Djinn, and the novellas Ring ShoutThe Black God’s Drums and The Haunting of Tram Car 015. His stories have appeared in online venues such as Tor.com, Daily Science Fiction, Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, Apex, Lightspeed, Fireside Fiction, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and in print anthologies including, Griots, Hidden Youth and Clockwork Cairo. He is a founding member of FIYAH Literary Magazine and an infrequent reviewer at Strange Horizons.

Born in New York and raised mostly in Houston, Texas, he spent the early formative years of his life in the homeland of his parents, Trinidad and Tobago. When not writing speculative fiction, P. Djèlí Clark works as an academic historian whose research spans comparative slavery and emancipation in the Atlantic World. He melds this interest in history and the social world with speculative fiction, and has written articles on issues ranging from racism and H.P. Lovecraft to critiques of George Schuyler’s Black Empire, and has been a panelist and lecturer at conventions, workshops and other genre events.

At current time, he resides in a small Edwardian castle in New England with his wife, daughters, and pet dragon (who suspiciously resembles a Boston Terrier). When so inclined he rambles on issues of speculative fiction, politics, and diversity at his aptly named blog The Disgruntled Haradrim.

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