A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark shows a non-romanticized steampunk Egypt (the early 1900s) and features complex female characters and relationships. Fatma, an investigator from the Egyptian Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities, sets off to solve a case that could endanger the world.
I’ve been following P. Djèlí Clark’s work for the past several years and he has yet to fail to impress me. From his well-nuanced portrayal of relationships between Black women and women of color to his vivid worldbuilding and attention to detail, Clark’s storytelling is more than remarkable. If this is your first time hearing about him, now is the time to catch up. A Master of Djinn demonstrates the prowess of his craft. Taking place in a steampunk 1900s Egypt, the story follows investigator Fatma el-Sha’arawi as she tackles a case that becomes more complicated than expected.
A Master of Djinn begins with a masked man murdering the members of a secret brotherhood. A rumor that al-Jahiz, the one who brought magic back into the world decades ago, has returned spreads through the corners of the city. The murderer is likely al-Jahiz. Assigned to this puzzling case, Fatma navigates the social dynamics of Cairo’s citizens and visitors while dealing with personal matters. Siti, her lover, surprisingly returns. Hadia, a rookie in the Ministry, is assigned as Fatma’s new partner.
Clark’s worldbuilding amazes me. This version of Egypt comes without the archaeologist’s fantasy and exotification. The pyramids and pharaohs are part of the people’s history, the Nile River part of their environment. People who still worship the Egyptian deities are considered heretics. Social disparities, sexism, antiblackness, and colorism are confronted. The Djinn are magnificent and even intimidating beings.
I’ve received an ARC of this title from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Author: Brahidaliz Martinez
Brahidaliz (pronounced Bra-da-leez) is a 2019 graduate of American University’s MFA in creative writing program. They’re a submissions editor for Uncanny Magazine. Their various areas of interest include intersectionality in apocalyptic and disaster films, Artificial Intelligence, writing for animation, YA SFF, and LGBTQ+ representation in children’s media.
Location: DC Metro area
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