A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark. New York: Tom Doherty Associates Book, 2021. 392 pages.
I have become fascinated with folk tales and traditions from other countries, including djinns and daevas from the Middle Eastern/Arab countries. Like most fairy/folk tales, A Master of Djinn is dark and full of interesting, dangerous characters, but it also has hope for the future and heroes to cheer for. However, this story is not so much of a folk tale as it is a murder mystery with supernatural elements!
A Master of Djinn is set in early 1900s Egypt (whether Egypt is truly Arab or African is debate for another day), featuring a world similar to ours, but with the addition of magic and the supernatural. Fatma is the youngest woman working for the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities. She is Muslim, but eschews the typical garb of a Muslim woman for sharp suits, including hats, waistcoats and a cane/sword. She is a relationship with Siti, a woman who worships Hathor and Sekhmet, the old Egyptian goddesses.
When the book begins, she has been assigned a partner, a new woman joining the Ministry named Hadia, although Fatma doesn’t want or need a partner (or so she thinks). They are assigned to investigate the gruesome death of a group of white colonialists, lead by Lord Worthington, who were worshipping al-Jahiz. Supposedly, al-Jahiz has come back to life and is leading a revolution in the streets of Cairo, and was horrified to find his relics being worshipped by these unworthy men. Fatma is convinced this al-Jahiz is a fraud, but he is accompanied by a djinn and an ifrit, and seems to be performing miracles that an ordinary man could not do. Al-Jahiz is stirring up dissent, right before a peace conference with world leaders will be held in Cairo. The police and Ministry cannot capture him, and furthermore, they can’t convince the populace that he is a fraud and is dangerous.
Fatma and her friends and colleagues must figure out who al-Jahiz really is, and what that person plans to do, because it can’t be good if it involves magical relics, supernatural creatures and the possibility of the end of the world!
This book is labeled as the first of the Dead Djinn Universe, as it is the first full-length novel by Clark, but there are several novellas he wrote first that involve some of the characters from this book. I hadn’t read them before I read this book, but may go find them, as they can only make the story richer. Clark has created a wonderfully complex world that I can’t wait to further explore in his future books.
Mary Beth Adams is the Outreach Coordinator for the Alamance County Public Libraries. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.