ARC Review: A Master of Djinn

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

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29 thoughts on “ARC Review: A Master of Djinn

  1. I really enjoyed this one, too! I agree the action took a while to get going, which is why I struggled with it initially, but thankfully, it picked up in the second half. I’m surprised you found the characterization lacking, though. As another small-town girl in the big city, I loved seeing Fatma navigate that – still obviously missing and loving her family and home but enjoying the greater individual freedom of her city life at the same time, figuring out who she is outside of her upbringing while still honoring where she comes from. And the conversations between her and Hadia about their experiences as women in a predominately male profession were so interesting – the way they (Fatma, especially) had to acknowledge their biases and that there’s not just one way to be a woman in this world/job. I haven’t read any of the short stories yet, but I’m looking forward to them. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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    1. You bring up some good points! Perhaps reading that review ended up biasing my thoughts (why I generally try not to read reviews before the books). I think maybe it was also that because the traits I mentioned came up SO much, like every time the character was mentioned, that they dwarfed other parts of their personality. Now that I think back though, I did appreciate the aspects you mentioned!

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      1. They do come up a lot, yes! I felt it was a bit of showing us “this is how everyone sees them,” then letting us see more layers in quieter moments. Also, I just love seeing women kick ass, so maybe it didn’t bother me as much. As for Fatma’s suits… we get so many descriptions of women’s clothing in books anyway, but maybe this stood out more because she was being non-conformist and wearing traditionally male clothing? And it still showed a bit of her character – her determination to be herself, her decision to make a forceful impression, to really assert herself, when everyone is predisposed to underestimate a female agent.

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  2. I loved this book too!!! The world Clark built was brilliant but I kind of felt the opposite of what you felt character wise. From being a loner investigator to coming to trust and depend on Hadia, exploring her relationship with Siti etc all felt like they added depth to the characters. But that’s just my opinion. Really enjoyed reading your views on the book 😊

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  3. I just finished this recently and had a similar reaction! Loved loved loved the worldbuilding and I did enjoy the book overall but I didn’t find it as captivating as Clark’s novellas. I think you’re dead on about the characters needing more development than they got, as much as I loved to see women centered like this. Great review!

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    1. Yes! All of the other stories are novellas/novelettes tho (from about 30-100 pages). There are 4 including this one. You don’t need to read the other to understand what’s happening in this though! I read them very out of order and still enjoyed it, although this contains a few spoilers for the earlier ones

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  4. I saw this recently and wondered if I should add it to my list. From your review, I’d say I should! I mainly like police detective/mysteries when there’s a special element, and A Master of Djinn sounds like it has plenty that’s special.

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