*I received a copy from the publisher via Netgalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*
When a wealthy businessman and his secret brotherhood are all slaughtered in the dead of night, it is up to Fatma el-Sha’arawi, an agent for the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities, to discover the truth. What she doesn’t expect is that the murderer is claiming he is Al-Jahiz, the very man who opened up the veil between the seen and the unseen almost 50 years ago. Al-Jahiz is announcing his return to condemn the modern era for its lack of social decency. His dangerous abilities threaten to disrupt the peace between the humans and djinns. With the help of her mysterious girlfriend, Siti, and her Ministry colleagues, they must work together to prevent this imposter from moving to global devastation.
I had read P. Djèlí Clark’s short fiction piece in preparation for A Master of Djinn. You can read it for free here! The events, in short, are mentioned briefly in A Master of Djinn and do not need to be read to understand the plot. I had found the original short piece fun and exciting, definitely interested in what this steampunk Cairo had to offer. But I had not expected A Master of Djinn to blow me away in the way that it did. Do not be surprised when this book takes its rightful spot in my Best Read of 2021 list later this year.
We start off with Lord Worthington, who brings together his Brotherhood of Al-Jahiz, a select group of men who are tasked with uncovering the wisdom of Al-Jahiz. Over the years, they have collected everything from clothing to papers that the man might have touched. That is a mysterious man who can seemingly duplicate himself slays them all in the middle of the night, and Agent Fatma might be one of the few people who can figure out why. Fatma’s journey takes her into the depth of Cairo, from the towering Ministry building that houses a librarian Djinn, who never seems to be interested in her, to the streets where humans and djinn live together. It has been a long time since a book has enthralled me in this way. The conflict, climax and resolution all fell into place and were executed with such detail and power. A unique, exciting tale about an agent who is not paid enough to deal with the drama of djinns.
Agent Fatma is our brilliant lead. She is one of the few female Agents at the Ministry and is a lone wolf who prefers to work silently and, most importantly, alone. While she does enlist the help of her girlfriend, Siti, Fatma knows her best work comes alone. So imagine her surprise when she’s knee-deep in a murder investigation; here comes Agent Hadia, her new partner. She immediately does her best to push away the new Agent, adamant that Fatma takes her under her wings, even as doing far to reject working alongside the most profiled agents at the Ministry. I loved Hadia; she is by far my favourite character in the series already. Hadia is fresh off the academy and ready to save the world. Her knowledge aids Fatma in places she never knew, and her story about her never-ending list of cousins had me laughing for days. Their relationship is an excellent mentor/mentee bond, and their development is satisfying as hell as they both navigate their male-dominated workplace.
Overall, I adored this one. A Master of Djinn is set in an alternate 1920s Cairo. After Al-Jahiz opened the veil and vanished and with the aid of the Djinns, Egypt forced out the British colonisers and re-established themselves as a world power. Clark’s worldbuilding is vibrant and magnificent. The magical setting with political and social issues while also figuring out a murder mystery was top-notch and a journey to read. And with a satisfying conclusion that paves the way for more exciting stories.