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  • Nikky Lee

Book Review: A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark

Title: A Master of Djinn (Dead Djinn Universe #1)

Author: P. Djèlí Clark

Publisher: Tor

Genre: Historical fantasy, alternative history, mystery/detective

Page count: 396

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐✨(3.5)/ 5



If I were to sum up A Master of Djinn in one word, it would be ‘intellectual’. Where other books I’ve read this year run high on emotion and atmosphere, this tale managed to pull me in with its clever alternative history, worldbuilding and mystery. Set in 1912 in an alternate Cairo, humanity and the supernatural live side by side, which in Egypt is mostly djinn. Here we meet Special Investigator for the Ministry of Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities, Fatma el-Sha’arawi, who is working to solve the mass murder of a cult lead by a wealthy English lord.


For those who follow my reviews, you’ll know by now that I have a soft spot for worldbuilding. And wow, does Clark deliver on this front. Not only do we have a wonderful non-Western setting, but we also have clockwork angels, djinn of varying kinds, gods old and new, deep lore, bazaars, thieves, airships, camel races, and so much more. This world felt real and brimming, and when I ended this tale I was almost surprised to find this alternative world didn’t exist.


Perhaps best of all is how brilliantly Clark captures the zeitgeist in this story. As the djinn powerhouse of the world, Egypt is quickly cementing itself as a modern world power, boasting progressive policies, a flourishing economy and significant political sway with the coming together of djinn and humanity. Yet for all its belief and boasting of modernity, Egyptian society is not as progressive or advanced as it likes to think. Poverty is rampant, inequality exists in all its forms, the worst kind of ‘isms’ are alive and well. While reading this it’s impossible not to see the issues within this alternative, magic-infused society as a reflection of some of the biggest issues in Western society faces today, particularly in the USA. Yet, it’s not without hope, at the beginning of its rise to power, there is a sense that Egypt might yet overcome the issues of its real-world inspirations.


For all my raving, you’re probably wondering, why only 3.5 stars? Two reasons. For all its intellectual delights, A Master of Djinn fell a little flat in terms of emotional pull. The world and its details were thrilling and were by and large what kept me reading, but emotionally it felt like it was lacking that quinessential spark to lift it from good to superb.


Second, was the plot. A discerning reader will likely pick the perpetrator by the half-way point and spend an achingly long time waiting for the main characters to figure it out. The good news is, there is plenty of mythos and intriguing characters (along with magical beings) to discover while the protagonists—supposedly some of the finest detectives Cairo has to offer—stumble around in the dark. If you love worldbuilding, you may not mind the delay, but if you live for plot, this might push your patience.


All up, if you’re on the hunt for a superbly rendered world rich in lore and mythology, wonderfully diverse characters, and intriguing political factions both human and supernatural, then this book should delight.

 

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