She was in a swirling maelstrom. No up or down. No ground. Only a blinding storm of riotus colour without shape or form and a thunderous voice pounding in her ears. “Wield me. Master me. Bend me to your will. Or I shall bend you.”
*There may be spoilers in the content warning section above the summary. Tread lightly!*
Thank you NetGalley and Macmillan-Tor/Forge for the digital ARC; which we received in exchange for an honest review.
Published: May 2021
Genre: Historical Fiction, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Alternate Universe, Mystery
Representation: People of Colour (Black & Brown Characters); LGBTQIA2S+ (Lesbian/WLW, Intersex characters).
Content Warning: Police brutality; violence; blood; assault; allusion to sexual content; mass killings; arson and death by fire.
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….
— summary from P. Djèlí Clark’s website
How does it suit you to be tested by the lion of the forest?
This is our obligatory P. Djèlí Clark review – because if you’ve been following this blog from its start you’ve likely noticed we’ve reviewed nearly every one of his books, and he is undoubtedly one of our favourite authors. This review is also going to be a fairly short one – we loved this book, and we wholeheartedly recommend it to fellow fantasy-sci/fi fiction lovers, but the reasons we love it echo many of the reasons we’ve provided for loving Clark’s work before. Therefore, for the sake of not sounding like a broken record, we thought it best we didn’t beat the same horse over and over. So if you haven’t been following us from the beginning and if you haven’t read some of our earlier reviews, check them out here, here, and here to see all the myriad reasons we love Clark’s work.
Besides the fact that we love this author, the other reason we needed to review this book is this: it’s his first full-length novel. Until now, his sweepingly brilliant fantasy tales have been in novella form. We originally received A Master of Djinn in eArc form – because of course we’re going to jump at the chance to receive an ARC when it’s a novel by one of our favourite authors. And we’ve said it before, but we’ll say it again: P. Djèlí Clark did not disappoint.
A Master of Djinn is set in the same universe as A Dead Djinn in Cairo and The Haunting of Tram Car 015, starring the same protagonist as the former, and including characters from the latter. If an epic fantasy-mystery story starring a lesbian cane-weapon-wielding paranormal detective and her badass assassin goddess-channeling love doesn’t intrigue you right off the bat, then this novel will not be for you. But if it does pique your curiosity, you will well and truly love this book. Our strong, queer, WOC protagonist hunts down a murderous cult leader masquerading as a renowned historical figure, while the social politics of Cairo hangs precariously in the balance. As always, Clark writes fascinating, three-dimensional characters who you can’t help but love – all of them living outside of the black-and-white binary that tends to be represented in historical fiction. Clark represents a Cairo that is actively trying to oppress its women, its queer folks, and its poor, but the characters refuse to be subdued and strive to be utterly themselves even in the face of extreme diversity. Characters with any amount of privilege are forced to confront it in the rapidly declining situation that they are facing, while also interrogating their own prejudices and misconceptions. This book screams feminism and female empowerment, with brilliant characters, sweeping love, and a head-scratching mystery that well and truly keeps your mind boggled until it slowly unfolds before your eyes. In his storytelling, Clark lends a critical eye towards issues of gender, class, race and imperialism. With djinn, dragons, magical anomalies, ghuls, goblins, faerie, and incredibly advanced steampunk technology, this incredible novel is set in a vivid paranormal-and-magic infused world where Cairo has become a center of world power. An epic, intricate and winding mystery that keeps you on your toes, while also making poignant commentaries on socio-political inequalities, gender divisions, love, an adoration of Cairenes, and above all, finding strength in oneself in the most difficult circumstances. We don’t want to say much more for fear of ruining the story, but if you love diverse fantasies as much as we do, pick up this novel! You won’t regret it.