July 13, 2021

Review: A Master of Djinn

A Master of Djinn A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Two years ago, I read the novella that was the prequel to this book. In my review, I stated: "This story is well paced and tightly written, and the world is something I would like to explore further." Heh. From my fingertips to the author's ears? This book is the expansion of that world, and a fine followup it is.

This is definitely a case of a world and story benefiting from a full length novel. The author is a historian in his day job, and that expertise is woven all through this book. This is an alternate history where a door to another dimension was opened forty years previously and magic, as well as djinn and various other supernatural beings, now reside in our world. The immediate consequence of this for Egypt and Cairo, where this story is set, is that the British colonizers were kicked out; not only from Egypt but other countries as well, such as India. The sun set on the British Empire rather abruptly in this world, and this is a large part of why the villain in this book is trying to use the djinn, and a magical ring that controls them, to take the English power back.

Our protagonist, Fatma el Sha'arawi, works for Cairo's Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities. She is drawn into the investigation of the murder of several members of a secret society. The person who killed these people is impersonating Al-Jahiz, the man who forty years ago unleased magic and the djinn on the world. This person cannot really be Al-Jahiz, or so Fatma thinks, but the impersonator is doing a fine job of whipping up unrest. This leads to an attack on the Ministry itself, and stealing a contraption from its headquarters known as the Clock of Worlds. The impostor hopes to use this to wake up the Nine Ifrit Lords from their extradimensional sleep and use them, along with the rest of Egypt's djinn, to take over the world.

Fatma is fine protagonist: an intelligent, dogged, pragmatic investigator who wears brightly colored suits and ties, a bowler hat, and carries a cane that conceals a sword. She has a lover named Siti, a mysterious woman who pops in and out of Fatma's life and proves to be a bit more than human. She also gains a new partner along the course of the story, Hadia, an overeager rookie who also proves to be more than first advertised. The relationships between these characters and others (including a man who is morphing into a crocodile god) are one of the highlights of the book. The characterization is well balanced with the plot, and the depth of worldbuilding is revealed gradually as the story goes along. It's never overwhelming or infodumpy.

Previously, the author had written short stories and novellas. A full-length novel is an entirely different beast, a test I'm glad to say he's passed with flying colors. This is a fascinating world, well worth visiting.

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