Book Review

A Master of Djinn

A Master of Djinn

  • Author: P. Djèlí Clark
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Publication Date: May 11, 2021
  • Publisher: Tordotcom
  • Series: Dead Djinn Universe #1

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book. I am offering my honest opinion voluntarily.

CONTENT WARNING: death, violence, gore, racism, slavery, self-harm, racial slurs

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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…. 

I’ver read two of the three novellas leading up to this book to familiarize myself with this world. I was really looking forward to starting this book, but there were some things I absolutely loved and some things that I just … didn’t. 

Let me be clear. World building is absolutely one of the great strengths of the author. I’ve read a couple of steampunk books, but this one blew them away. Early 20th century Egypt is already an interesting setting, but then add in the steampunk elements and the fantasy/djinn aspects and the incredibly detailed descriptions and it’s just far beyond anything I could have hoped for. I had no problem visualizing everything that was depicted throughout the book.

I had bonded to some of the characters in earlier novellas, like Hamed and Onsi, and only got to know Fatma a little bit. While she was the main character in this story, she had this major reputation as one of the best agents in her department. But to be honest, I just didn’t really understand why. There were so many things that she missed, overlooked, or tried to explain away, and at times, she was rash and judgmental. The bright spot in the cast of characters was definitely Hadia. While she was a little bit of a stickler for the rules, kind of like the female version of Onsi, I really liked her and the fresh point of view that she brought to the story. Plus, she’s pretty badass.

There was a whole lot going on in the story. It was fast-paced and there was a lot of action, but it also felt a little … messy to me. Even the genre felt hard to put my finger on. It was fantasy, but also steampunk/sci-fi/historical fiction/mystery/thriller and had elements of romance. While I did enjoy the main plot, there were a lot of side plots that arose. Some of them worked with the story, but others just felt like they drew attention away from the story, and didn’t really need to be added in there. 

And finally, there are a ton of foreign words sprinkled throughout the story. Normally I don’t mind, especially when reading on my Kindle, since my Kindle will handily provide a definition or I can just figure it out through context. But I was sadly disappointed in this case. The vast majority of words in the story weren’t recognizable to my Kindle’s dictionary, and I couldn’t figure out what they meant through context. So my choices were to put the Kindle down at least once a page and look it up on my phone, which would take me out of the story completely, or to just power through and constantly wonder, “What, exactly, am I missing out on?” I generally picked the second choice. 

Overall, this wasn’t my favorite story in the series. I honestly enjoyed the novellas a lot more. I actually hope to see more of Hamed and Hadia, since those two are my favorite characters so far.

People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn’t an upper limit.

Gasp Factor: 15

9 replies »

  1. I’ve read A Dead Djinn in Cairo but I haven’t read the other novellas before this one. I may end up reading those first and then picking this one up then. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    Liked by 1 person

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