Once again, P. Djèlí Clark weaves an absolutely stunning fantasy world.
Set in his alternate Cairo of the 1900’s, Agent Fatma el-Sha’arawi is back in the newest Dead Djinn mystery. When twenty members of a mysterious brotherhood dedicated to the famous Al-Jahiz turn up dead, Fatma and her new partner must find the culprit. Together they embark on a journey filled with Djinn, angels, and a masked man intent on the destruction of Cairo itself.
Seriously, this world is so enchanting. It’s one of those books where the setting kind of becomes the plot because every moment you are unsure what magic is going to pop up next. One of my favorite creatures had to be the angels— they were so different from any angel description I have ever seen, and in a captivating way. But at the same time it is reiterated that “they can’t really be angels” which provides a whole other layer of questions (that are never answered, but, like, in a good way)
Not to mention, I’m someone who doesn’t generally like reading purely mystery books, and especially not police detective books. But the combination of police mystery with a mythical setting was just so intriguing. The blend of genres is seamless and was able to captivate even my short, impatient attention span. I definitely fell even more in love with Cairo in A Master of Djinn than I did in The Haunting of Tram Car 015 (which is the first Clark book I read). And that’s saying something, because I very much enjoyed it in that book too.
I will say that I had a slight problem with the repetitiveness of certain characters. I saw it mentioned in another review that Fatma was sometimes boiled down to her love of suits, which I think is accurate. In fact, many of the characters were often represented by a single personality trait. Siti was the fierce lioness (side note: I was still in love with her), Ahmad a creepy crocodile, and Fatma had her suits. And I got on the one hand wanting to really develop certain qualities in the characters, but their range was limited in a way that took away from feeling like real people. However, I did still find them likable.
I think that may be partially why I had trouble staying engrossed at times—there was just something about the story that was distinctly fictional. And as the world building was so fantastic, it must have had something to do with the characters (and possibly the occasional info dumping). While I appreciated the amount of detail put even into the history of the world, I also wanted to see more action and dialogue. After reading all of Clark’s novellas, I think I can say A Master of Djinn had the plot of a full-length story, but character development that better matched the short stories. If there had just been a little more to them, everything would have felt more tangible.
But really, I have enjoyed the entirety of the Dead Djinn universe, and don’t want to come off too critical. The world building alone will make me read any future books in this series. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who wants to get lost in a gorgeously told and vivid story!
Rating: 4/5 Pacing: Medium Intended audience: Adult Content warnings: murder, violence