Synopsis: Fatma el-Sha’arawi is the youngest woman working for the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities. Fatma is a skilled agent, one who already stopped the destruction of the world. When a mass murder of a secret brotherhood occurs, Agent Fatma takes on the case, only to find herself embroiled in tales of Al-Jahiz and apparent his return. Danger lurks at every turn with Al-Jahiz demonstrating his deadly powers, but Fatma, her colleague Hadia, and her girlfriend Siti are determined to find out the truth and put a stop to this dangerous figure.
A Master Of Djinn, by P Djeli Clark is a phenomenal, amusing and twisty Egyptian fantasy with a steampunk feel and captivating characters. From start to finish I was utterly enthralled by the magic, the characters and the story.
The Writing/Narrative. P.Djeli Clark has an utterly absorbing writing style that is descriptive and detailed but also easy to connect with, relying on wit, emotion and humour to create a very human feel to it. Not only does he manage to breathe life into his settings, he also perfectly captures the characters and dialogue through his prose. Despite the story being fantasy, there is something very real in Clark’s prose, and it roots itself in your heart. Clark is definitely a clever and enthralling story-teller and his move into full length novels has definitely succeeded – I was completely engaged with the story from page one, and after finishing the book I couldn’t help but want more!
The book focuses on the perspective of Fatma, our mc (though the first chapter or so is from another perspective which gave the book an incredibly effective opening). This was the perfect narrative choice, mainly because of how absolutely amazing Fatma’s character is, but also because it fit very well with the plot itself. The narration perfectly carries the plot, and balances the pacing so that the book never falls into a lull. From the action and murder to the fantasy and puzzle of the case, the story manages to be perfectly paced and keeps your attention all the way through.
Clark masterfully writes action, investigations and relationships, hitting the target with every element of his story. From the narration, to the settings, to the characters, every element is well crafted, well structured and well written.
The Plot/Story. A Master Of Djinn has a brilliant story that keeps you on your toes. The story kicks off with a mass murder, and agent Fatma has been given the case – but things immediately seem strange. The victims are all members of some eccentric Brotherhood, the story of Al-Jahiz keeps popping up, and a masked man claiming to be Al-Jahiz himself is stirring up trouble – and it’s up to Fatma, her girlfriend Siti, and her colleague Hadia, to piece together the truth behind Al-Jahiz supposed return, and the bodies left in his wake.
The story is set in Cairo, Egypt – but with a fantasy spin. This Egypt is full of Djinn, magical artefacts and enchantments that are amusing, dangerous and intriguing. Fatma, the mc, works specifically for a department that handles all things supernatural and the case she embarks on definitely fits the bill. I absolutely adored the setting of the book, Clark really bought the streets of Cairo to life, and perfectly entwined the magical elements with the world. The Djinn have become a part of everyday life, and are vast and diverse in type, nature and power making for some incredibly interesting encounters – my favourite part being the deals made with Djinn and the tricky wordplay required to make them. There is also quite a steampunk feel to the world and the story which was really interesting to see and made the world all the more intriguing.
The plot has quite the explosive start with a mass murder leaving behind burnt corpses, and Fatma arrives on the scene after being assigned to the unusual case that seems tied to Djinn. I really loved the murder/case solving part of the plot and the magical twists and turns within it – it felt like a puzzle slowly coming together and it was enjoyable trying to piece it together alongside the characters. Clark manages to blend the crime solving element, the story of Al-Jahiz and his supposed return, and the existence of Djinn very well, it made the case more interesting, less predictable and maintained a sense of tension, mystery and suspicion throughout the story. I really loved all the elements to the plot and to the case, and how each element slowly came together to produce the answer and the whole truth behind the murders and the other secrets that are uncovered along the way.
Another thing I really adored about this book is how it places the female characters at the centre. The plot is filled with murder and magic but it also explores important themes of sexism, women’s independence, non-conformity and touches on colonisation. We get a plot and story full of characters who are independent and unconventional, carving a way for themselves in an Egypt that is slowly changing – and I loved this, Clark really writes some standout female characters that you cannot help but love and connect with. The book manages to deal with these themes in a rich and meaningful way without losing the wit and humour that makes this story so charming. There is a perfect balance of serious themes and dangerous risks with emotion and humour.
It is incredibly hard to talk about the plot without spoiling it but it is truly fantastic. I loved the crime element and putting together the puzzle of evidence, I adored the story of Al-Jahiz and his supposed return, the Djinn element and the secrets behind the Djinn and Angels was fascinating, and I loved all of the reveals and the story’s conclusion. There were so many little things about this book that made me fall more in love with it, from the side characters (like the doorman!) to the stories and books, to the myths and magic. Clark captures the big picture and the small details with a grace that makes this book easy to love, and it will definitely leave you wanting more from Fatma, Hadia and Siti!
The Characters. This book truly has characters that shine and they make the plot all the more enjoyable! The story has a mainly Egyptian cast and features a central f/f couple. All the characters in the book are well-developed and individual, including all the side characters who have their own strong presence. I loved the large cast of human and Djinn characters and found them all to be engaging.
Fatma. Our mc and Agent assigned to the Al-Jahiz case. Fatma is Hadia’s superior and partner, and Siti’s girlfriend and I absolutely loved her – she is a new favourite character of mine! Fatma’s character is very well crafted, she is realistic and easy to connect to and HER SUITS, Fatma is clever, quick witted, has excellent sarcasm and is a small stylish charming Agent. I really liked Fatma’s character, she is a very strong mc that supported the plot well. It was also interesting to have her as the character driving the story as she is an experienced Agent who already saved the world from destruction before. Her experience comes into play throughout the story making it all the more interesting and makes her more realistic. Moreover, she isn’t flawless either, she makes mistakes and poor judgments (though not at the detriment of her experience) which results in a more rounded character that we can love even more.
I also really loved her relationships with Siti and Hadia, as well as the rest of the cast. Her and Siti have an interesting relationship that is already established by the time we meet her, and it develops nicely over the course of the story. I loved the dynamic between them and found they worked really well together and had a good chemistry as well as realistic development and struggles with reveals etc… that happen and occur. I also enjoyed the professional dynamic between Hadia and Fatma, the friction at first and the slow realisation that they can rely on each other and are both capable and have their own strengths showed a nice natural progression between the two and I grew to love their friendship and partnership the more I saw of them.
Hadia. Hadia is an Agent and Fatma’s new partner. Hadia is new to the team but has many of her own strengths and is equally as fierce as Fatma. Hadia is strong-willed and determined with strong beliefs and motivations. I really liked Hadia’s character, I thought she worked well with Fatma and had a great dynamic with the rest of the cast. She is also well rounded and well constructed, she comes across as realistic and I was very quick to warm to her. I really liked her idealism and outlook as well as her independence throughout the book.
Siti. Fatma’s girlfriend. I loved Siti who just exudes mystery from the start. Siti is beautiful and mysterious and one of those characters who you never know when or where they will pop up and it was so fun and enjoyable. She is also incredibly loyal and feels deeply which was nice to see, and she has a sharp wit and charm about her that makes her scenes much more interesting. I really liked Siti and her skillset, her background and everything we learn about her over the course of the story and I enjoyed her input on Fatma’s case (and the people we meet through her). Her character is not an agent and has a vastly different circle which adds a whole new dimension to the story that is all the more intriguing!
Al-Jahiz. The antagonist. I thought Clark did really well with constructing the antagonist for the story. The mystery surrounding him and whether he is the true Al-Jahiz or some imposter, what the extent of his powers are and how he is causing so much damage served well to keep us guessing and made the ending much more shocking and impactful. I can’t really say much more about the antagonist without spoilers but they were well crafted and powerful enough to maintain tension, suspense and mystery throughout the book.
Overall. A Master of Djinn, by P.Djeli Clark is a brilliant steampunky fantasy set in Egypt and full of magic and djinn. The book encapsulates strong and interesting characters, a twisty and mysterious plot and excellently written settings. I really enjoyed this book and the story – it was truly engaging from start to finish.
*I received an eARC of this book from #Netalley @Orbitbooks in exchange for an honest review – thank you!*