A Master of Djinn, published by Tor books, by P. Djeli Clark is a fantastical trip to Cairo Egypt circa 1913. However, this isn’t a Cairo anyone will recognize from history. For in the late 1800s the great Al-Jahiz opened up the veil separating the mundane and magical worlds. Now mortals exist side by side with Djinn and other magical beings not only in Egypt but all over the world wherever ancient beliefs are still practiced.
Of course with magical beings present in the world new government agencies have sprung into existence. Fatima el-Sha’arawi is one of the few female agents working for the Egyptian Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities. Her job, along with the other agents, is to investigate any crimes or happenings with supernatural elements. So when a group of Englishmen who are part of a group called the Brotherhood of Al-Jahiz are all mysteriously murdered she is called into investigate.
While their deaths are gruesome, burned by supernatural fire, they are only the beginning of the troubles Fatima has to deal with. Eccentric, she dresses in European male’s clothing including rakish bowler hats, and is someone who prefers to work alone. Therefore she is disconcerted to find her boss has saddled her with a partner. Although a woman, the more conventional Hadia, at first glance, appears to be the opposite of Fatima.
While Hadia might feel like an inconvenience to Fatima at first, she ends up needing all the help she can get in dealing with this case. For the person who killed the Englishmen is claiming to be Al-Jahiz returned and is whipping the poor and underclasses into a ferment of revolutionary zeal.
However, it turns out this is just a feint. The imposter’s real plans are far more insidious. Somehow the new Al-Jahiz has the power to control Djinn. They are forced to do things like attempt to murder their mortal friends or even cut out their own tongues if they try and speak the truth about Al-Jahiz’s hold over them.
Thankfully Fatima and Hadia aren’t without their allies. Worshippers of the old gods and goddesses of Egypt are also under attack and they join forces with the Ministry in an effort to to thwart the plans of this person claiming to be Al-Jahiz.
Clark has created a fascinating mixture of steampunk, ancient myth, and fantasy. The Djinn in the book are master builders who create incredible clockwork mechanisms that do everything from power buildings to serve as serving staff and messengers. In some ways you feel like you’ve entered an entire world made up of clockworks, with every cog and wheel interconnected.
Perhaps it’s only fitting that Fatima’s father was a watch maker as she’s the one who has to figure out how prevent the machine of Cairo from being destroyed by this mysterious figure. Brave, resourceful, and more than a little bit cocky, she is a wonderful character.
She seems equally at home with Djinn, the worshippers of the old gods, and her own faith. While she sometimes can be a little arrogant and get ahead of herself, she always finds her way back to her centre. Sometimes it’s by remembering aphorisms her mother used to tell her and other times by holding onto the watch her father made for her.
While Fatima is the central character, Clark hasn’t stinted in his attention to the other people populating his world. From Hadia to Fatima’s romantic partner Siti his world is populated with a wonderful mix of strange and mysterious people. The Djinn aren’t treated like some universal blob – all the same – but as unique individuals with differing characteristics the same as any other being.
In A Master of Djinn Clark has created an amazing story Combining steampunk sensibilities with ancient magic and beliefs. The characters are unforgettable and the settings are amazing. This is a story you won’t want to miss.