Review: A Master of Djinn

Review: A Master of Djinn

Rating: 5 out of 5.

*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.


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Review: The Unbroken

Review: The Unbroken

Rating: 4 out of 5.

*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.*

Stolen and raised as a soldier for an empire that will see her people dead, Touraine and her company have been sent back to their motherland to squash a rebellion before it can take flight. Princess Luca needs a spy and Touraine is the perfect match. Disconnected enough from her people to betray them and loyal enough to tiptoe the line between treason and order. Someone who can dirty their hands while she works to remove her uncle from her throne. Even if it means betraying the very foundation of Balladaire. However, Touraine finds herself questioning her decisions and is forced to betray everyone she loves to protect them all. Who will survive in the end, the soldier or the spy?

The Unbroken truly broke through one of the worst book slumps I’ve ever had in my life. A passionate and powerful debut about a soldier who must find out who she truly is before it is too late. A political fantasy novel that takes you on a slow burn of a journey with an ending that rewards its reader with a satisfying promise of what’s to come. Touraine and Luca are complex and so is the system around them, the novel set in a fully fleshed out world that has been so severely affected by the actions of the colonising state of Balladaire. The first half of the book takes its time but the end result is worthwhile. 

The Unbroken takes place entirely in Qazāl, a country colonised by Balladaire and on the cusp of rebellion. Luca hopes to quell the dissent as proof of her right to rule and to uncover the magic within the land to save her people back home. Touraine doesn’t know what to think. She keeps her head down, hoping to one day gain the favour and respect of the commanders before her. But returning to Qazāl gives her the wake-up call she truly needed. After a false accusation, Touraine finds herself ripped of her hard-earned status and saved by the grace of Princess Luca in exchange for a much perilous role. We navigate the diplomacy and political landscape through the lens of Touraine, a soldier with no “home”.

Thematically, The Unbroken hides no secrets about the core message. The series is undoubtedly about empire rule and the lingering effects of colonialism on the people left behind. Initially, Touraine recoils at the memory of her people, the Qazāli, determined to prove to them that the so-called aid that Luca and her diplomats bring can elevate their status. But it is the emotion and experience of the people left behind that reminds her that the machine behind Luca does not care about their well-being and she is stripped bare of her complacency and the identity she had worked so hard to build and survive her environment. Luca might give Touraine everything she needs, but Touraine must decide where she stands or risk losing everything. 

As the dust settles and they are all left tending to the wounds of colonial violence, The Unbroken is a journey on its own, but Touraine’s story is far from over. I adore this book and would definitely recommend to any reader who really wants to sink their teeth into a gritty military-political fantasy that deep-dives into the nuances of imperialism from a multitude of perspectives.


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Review: The Shadow of What Was Lost

Review: The Shadow of What Was Lost

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Despised by the people beyond the school walls and unable to harness the powers within him, Davian is counting down the days till he is stripped of his magical capabilities and discarded like many before him. But when he discovers his true abilities lie within the forbidden powers of the Augurs, he sets off in search of the truth, alongside his best friend, and together they must learn the truth before an ancient enemy awakens and threatens to destroy the boundary that protects them all. 

I’m so undecided on my thoughts on this book. On the one hand, I really enjoyed the concept, but on the other, the pacing is sluggish, and the writing is stilted, which made this six-hundred-page book feel even longer than it already was. 

The Shadow of What Was Lost begins with Davian, awoken in the night, called upon by his teachers to witness a fellow classmate become a Shadow, a punishment for escaping and using his abilities while not tethered to a shackle. This device prevents them from using Essence. As Davian watches his classmate wither away, he fears he could be next. For years, he has been unable to harness essence like his best friend, Wirr, and if he fails to pass the upcoming trials, then all hope is lost. But his lack of wielding isn’t his only issue. Davian can also tell when someone is lying; their breath releases dark smoke, which is also a surefire sign of being an Augur, people who held various powers of precognition and time manipulations. A generation later, Augurs are hunted down, and the Gifted, like Davian and Wirr, are bound to the Tenets, which keeps them under the control of non-Gifted users. 

Continue reading “Review: The Shadow of What Was Lost”

Review: Dial A For Aunties

Review: Dial A For Aunties

Rating: 4 out of 5.

When Meddelin Chan accidentally kills her blind date, she enlists the help of her mother and aunties to get rid of the body. Things become tricky when the body is accidentally shipped to the wedding destination that her family business is working on. The wedding that is supposed to skyrocket their reputation, and Meddelin must make sure that not even a dead body can get in the way of her aunts’ antics. They are almost out of the woods until Meddy’s college love re-enters her life. Can Meddy fix her relationship, pull off a wedding and get away with murder all in one day? 

This book is a weird one. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book this ridiculous. But I loved every moment of reading this. Meddelin Chan is a 26-year-old photographer working for her family’s wedding business run by her mother and aunts. Meddy believes in the Chan Family Curse, where all the men in their family end up leaving and is adamant not to abandon her family like her father, uncles and male cousins. Even if it meant giving up Nathan during university, but now her mother thinks she’s ready to get married and poses as Meddy on an online dating site, snagging a date with the local hotel owner, Jake. 

Meddy agrees to go on a date, and when Jake goes too far, Meddy tases him while driving, causing them to crash. Panicking, she tells her mum the truth, who brings in her aunts, and they begin to work on dealing with Jake. One mistake sends the body to the island resort, and not only does Meddy have to deal with the wedding and the blood on her hands, she learns that her ex-boyfriend Nathan is the owner of the hotel that is hosting the wedding, and he’s ready to try again. 

Dial A For Aunties is a mish-mash of things that usually wouldn’t work for me. But somehow, Sutanto makes it work, and it’s hilarious. When I reached that final page and read the author’s note, I’ve never been so excited to see that there’s already a film adaptation in the works. This book is pure chaos that I hope translates well into film. 

The comparison to Crazy Rich Asians is apt. Meddy can hardly believe they snagged the wedding of billionaires Tom Cruise Sutopo and Jacqueline Wijaya. A guest line goes into the thousands and gifts that could pay off Meddy’s college debt in a single swipe. Amid the chaotic storyline, the story’s heart lies in the sacrifices Meddy and her aunts make in the name of family. Sutanto delves into the familial relationships of the Chan family line and the difficulties most immigrant families face for the betterment of their loved ones. Meddy is constantly thinking about her family, even choosing to break up with Nathan despite her own wants. She undergoes some serious character development and begins to understand how to speak up for herself.  

Overall, Dial A for Aunties was hilarious and entertaining. The story is so strange that I found myself speechless at the absurdity of this entire plot. Despite the chaos, it is a story of family, sacrifice all wrapped up in an absurd murder mystery that will have you shaking your head at every turn of the page. I couldn’t even believe there is a sequel to this mayhem. I’ll be waiting for the return of the Chans.


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Review: The Mismatch

Review: The Mismatch

Rating: 3 out of 5.

*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.*

*note: this review is not spoiler-free*

Newly graduated Soraya struggles to balance her family’s expectations and her own, feeling unaccomplished in her young adult life. The idea that she hasn’t been kissed at twenty-one bothers her, so fixing that means everything else should work out. When she decides to make it a reality, Magnus Evans is the answer. Magnus is everything her Muslim parents would disapprove of in a man. Someone she could never see herself with, but this mismatch might be a perfect choice. The longer she gets to know Magnus, the less sure she becomes in her decision to pull away. 

The Mismatch was a tricky book for me. Personally, I resonated a lot with Soraya; her trauma and emotions when it came to handling her culture and family felt almost similar to mine. This story is less about the romance, as suggested by the synopsis, and more about her coming to face her Muslim guilt while juggling her culture’s sexist ideas. I won’t lie; I felt like I saw red for much of the scenes because it felt a bit too real. Soraya’s brother is allowed to do whatever without any consequences, while Soraya and her sister quite literally have to fear for their lives to do even do a slither of what he’s able to do. Soraya’s father is abusive and terrible, and the story does a great show of exploring the nuances and how the effects of it resonate throughout the family. 

Soraya’s story is not the only one told here. Chapters changed between Soraya and her mother, Neda, whose story pans from her university days in Tehran to her immigration journey to the UK. The real strength in this novel runs in the parallel between Soraya and Neda and their family. Neda is barely out of university, working towards her Masters when she decides to move to the UK with her husband, and they both struggle to adapt to their new life. Soraya’s guilt is rooted in the belief that she is disappointing her mother, who goes through absolute hell, from adapting to a new home to slowly losing her husband to drug addiction. 

For a contemporary romance novel, the romance novel was the least of my interest in this story, which is rather strange. Magnus Evans is rather frustrating to the point where I had lost interest in rooting for them to be together. The miscommunication which drives them apart was rather unforgivable, in my opinion. (Spoilers: Soraya discovers that Magnus’s friends began to hold a bet to see how long it would take for him to sleep with Soraya. While Magnus is against the bet, he doesn’t really do much to curry favour because he lets his friends be terrible behind her back. And then dares to compare the bet to Soraya’s plan to make him her first kiss when he is aware of the trauma surrounding why Soraya is scared to be intimate. And not to mention, HE read her journal and then told other people what was in it.) I just wanted to grab Soraya by the shoulders and tell her this white man was NOT worth it. 

In the end, The Mismatch wasn’t disappointing, and I enjoyed reading it a lot. However, I wasn’t exactly satisfied with some plot choices. Certain characters weren’t fleshed out enough, almost forgettable, and the romance is sorely disappointing. But the rest of the story that charts Soraya’s family and her desire for fulfilment was hopeful, and I can see this book resonating with other readers; it just missed the mark for me.

Review: The Silence of Bones

Review: The Silence of Bones

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Sixteen-year-old Seol finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation. Assigned to the police bureau, she assists the young investigators with the murder of a noblewoman. As their investigation takes a darker turn, Seol’s loyalty begins to be tester when the inspector she admired becomes the prime suspect, and Seol might be the only person able to find the truth. But when her role as a damo requires silence and obedience, Seol’s curiosity might just be dangerous.

The Silence of Bones has been on my radar for months, and I’m annoyed at myself for taking so long to read this! This book was a fast-paced thriller that packed an emotional punch. I hadn’t realised how attached I had become to Seol until I turned the very last page. Set in 1800 Joseon (now Korea), Seol is a damo, an indentured servant, working for the police force as a female attendant who partakes in places where men were otherwise not allowed. While keeping her head down, she quietly searched for the whereabouts of her older brother, who had left for the capital years prior. 

One day she called to handle the body of a noblewoman, Lady O, who was found dead with her nose sliced off. Questions begin to arise about Lady O’s status, later revealed to have been a Christian and soon she is linked to a police chase regarding the whereabouts of a priest. Seol’s position as a damo gives her a unique position, allowing her into spaces where her male counterparts would have been denied. Inspector Han might be the only person who sees something in her, promising her freedom if she takes the proper steps. 

I was surprised this book was in the first person as it felt like a story that could’ve been told through the third. But Hur writes with ease and tells a story with excitement and mystery. Seol is so young, and it comes across on page very well. She was never taught to read and often makes misjudgments due to her upbringing, which naturally creates misunderstandings. People don’t take her seriously because she is a damo, and she is adamant to prove them wrong. Her development is consistent, and the pay off in the story is both worthwhile and heartbreaking. Inspector Han proved to be quite the enigma, his behaviour both confuse and exasperate Seol and us readers alike. 

The story is fascinating. I had watched a k-drama back in 2019, called Rookie Historian Goo Haeryung. While the drama was more on the fantasy side, I really enjoyed the historical aspect, which is similar in this book as they both revolved around the start of Christianity in Korea. This isn’t taught in everyday History lessons, so I was intrigued by the characters that Seol meets that mirror real-life figures. Regent leaders are clamping down on the rise of Catholics in the country, families being ripped apart and executed, and how it has influenced Korea’s history and its current-day self. This book definitely sent me on a research haze from the moment I finished the story. In summary, The Silence of Bones illuminates Joseon Korea in this historical mystery tale. Seol’s journey takes on class, honour and loyalty to yourself and your family. I had an inkling of what the ending would be like, but Hur writes with such details and emotion that the journey towards it was well worth the time.


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