A Master of Djinn by P Dèlí Clark
Al-Jahiz transformed the world nearly forty years ago, when he ruptured the divisions between universes and ushered a world of djinn and magic into the world—before vanishing, never to be seen again. Until now. It’s up to Fatma el-Sha’arawi, agent of Egypt’s Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities, to discover what is going on…before al-Jahiz (or the person claiming to be him) disrupts the world again.
You don’t need to keep something quiet forever. You just let it come out in drips, to give everyone a chance to prepare for it. Then when the larger story is released, the impact is diminished and it’s soon forgotten.
A Master of Djinn starts off with a bang—literally.
Right from the start, al-Jahiz murders a group of British supernatural worshippers and relic hunters dedicated to discovering and preserving the legacy of al-Jahiz (in the most colonial way possible), and Fatma is assigned to the case, with a new partner to boot.
I have loved the Dead Djinn Universe series since the beginning, when I first read A Dead Djinn in Cairo and was introduced to the suit-wearing Fatma and her snark, wit and intelligence. There is even more of that now, as she rotates through an array of very colorfully described suits and continues being herself.
I’m not going to talk about the plot itself, which is more murder mystery than anything else, and addressing the murder aspect or the mystery aspect of things will be…spoilery. But let’s just say that the twist wasn’t particularly earth-shattering, and the villain’s monologue at the end was very monologuey and very…well. You’ll just have to read and see.
“You think Egypt can bring you peace when it cannot bring peace to itself. When its people cry out against its own injustices. When its corruption and decadence devour it from within.”
What I really enjoyed about this book was its insightful look into layers of prejudice and corruption.
When the world changes, who really comes out on top?
When the previous order is shattered, what happens to the victims, and to the victimizers?
Who remains in power, and what does that look like those those at the bottom?
What does reparations look like, when the injustices are finally seen—and someone decides to try to help?
There were a lot of questions, and not too many answers…which is understandable, since these are all very complex questions, and the root of colonialism and whyte supremacy are insidious and meant to be self-sustaining systems by both oppressed and oppressors. There are layers and layers, of whose intersections Clark captures very well.
At the top, there are the British colonizers, with the Great Broker of Peace and his legacy (both in terms of offspring and in political might and stranger racist archaic workings). When he is gone, where does that leave his legacy, in all sense of the word?
And with Egypt, where does their place fit into a world where they have powerful alliances, and what does it mean to be a person of color in a world of djinn and angels and whyte supremacists?
At the bottom, there are the poor, the darker skinned Egyptians, the marginalized being pushed further into the margins of their world as their country advances forward in technology and might. So when a person appears speaking words of change and revolution and empowerment and a chance to emerge from the marginalia of the history books, of course the oppressed follow.
Somewhere in the middle lies Fatma.
She is both a bridge and not. Between worlds (there are layers to this word, too), but not untouched by the worlds she resides in.
She has to reconcile with her own internalized misogyny when she is partnered with Hadia, who is as outwardly conservative as Fatma is outwardly progressive. I did like how Clark addresses the concept of the Exceptional Woman—you know who she is. The sole woman (or one of few) who are just so fantastic within their male-dominated workplace that the man clap themselves on the back for being inclusive while closing the doors behind her. The woman who by her very exceptionalism, is no longer a woman in the eyes of her male coworkers, but an object to be praised, feared and admired.
I liked that Fatma had to address (and readdress, again and again) her internalized prejudices, and build new bridges and a new way forward.
“I hope I’m not signing away my free will or fondest memories,” Hadia muttered.
“Oh no,” Azmuri replied. “Those forms are much longer.”
And, of course, I really, really liked the humor. There’s not a whole lot of it, and it’s very dry, but where it appears it is hilarious. The put-downs from the immortal magical beings are hilarious, and I loved that even though this is a brand new modern world of magic and technology, bureaucracy reigns supreme and is magic in its own way.
While the pacing was…not the best, I did enjoy who well swept up into this world I became. There is something so magical about this world, how everything builds and builds and builds until it all feels so real and magical and flawed all at once.
Anywho, if you enjoy a good murder mystery (with or without magic) and detective stories, I highly recommend this one.
I also highly recommend that you read the short story and novella that come before this. They are not entirely necessary, but will provide a bunch of context and understanding of who a lot of the players are and their motivations (and why angels are so scary).
I received this ARC from NetGalley for an honest review.
A Master of Djinn releases May 11, 2021.