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

djinn head

I discovered P. Djèlí Clark by accident on one of my travels. I had miscalculated the no. of books I needed and ended up with some spare reading time. I came across a book that immediately caught my attention because of the title - A Dead Djinn in Cairo. It was a short story but was available on #kindleunlimited so I gave it a shot. It turned out to be an excellent decision.

I was blown away by the myriad of themes at play in a short story and each one so brilliantly woven into the central narrative. Most of all, I loved the imaginative world building where typical fantasy elements met with steampunk. And all of this was set in the year 1912, that too, in an intriguing place like Egypt. A Master of Djinn is the first full length novel published after a series of short stories set in the same world. Even though you can pick up any of the published works to begin, I myself enjoyed reading them in the order of release because that gave me some background of the characters.

A Master of Djinn tells the story of a mysterious god-like character emerging from history to purge certain elements. Agent Fatma, the first female agent in the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities gets reigns of the case and has to go deeper than she expected to solve it. The narrative plays out like a police procedural mystery and does well for the most part. Even then, the mystery is not the strongest part of the book. The strength of The Master of Djinn lies in its unique world and its central characters.

As I said earlier, the world of Djinn is one of a kind. Unlike most fantasies that I have read, Clark bases his universe around a world we have known and then fills it with the unknown - magical creatures like Djinn, Ifrits, Ghuls Angels etc. The story takes place in Cairo, Egypt in the year 1912 but thanks to the magic of Djinns, Egypt has progressed greatly in everything from agriculture to technology. The vibe of technology is very much ‘steampunk’ with clockwork trams running on the road and airships floating above. Hence, what we get is a historical fantasy that blends with advanced technology to create a distinctive experience for the reader.

The characters also stand-out just like the environment of the book. I already talked about where the book is set (Cairo, 1912). Most women are expected to wear a hijab in this version of history as well. However, Fatma, who is already a peculiar figure as a women detective in the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities wears 3 piece suits with a bowler hat and carries a cane that conceals a long piercing object. Not just that, she has alternate sexual preferences and is romantically involved with Siti, who works at a temple. Another great character that is added to the mix is Hadia. She is Fatma’s new partner at the Ministry, one who is eager to prove herself. She also happens to have a cousin for every occasion.

What I loved about the characters was how curious they made me. They were relatable for sure but the main characters had an extra layer to them. I wanted to keep moving through the book in order to get to know Fatma, Siti and Hadia more & more.  Some of it comes out as you move through the book. Though, I have a strong feeling that there is plenty more yet to be uncovered. So for the rest, I will be eagerly waiting for the next book in the Dead Djinn Universe by P. Djèlí Clark.


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