TL;DR: A Master of Djinn is a delightfully sharp, action-packed mystery set in early 20th-century Cairo. Fatma, our main character, is a charming dandy with a razor wit and a nose for solving supernatural crimes; she exists in a deftly built alternative history where magic has returned to the world, ending the British occupation of Egypt. The first two installments set in this world, “A Dead Djinn in Cairo” (available for free on Tor.Com) and The Haunting of Tram Car 015 (novella, available wherever books are sold), are well worth picking up until you can get your hands on this one in May 2021. You can also find it on GoodReads.
I received a digital ARC of A Master of Djinn from Tor.Com/NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Note: this review makes mention of the climax with no details of the events transpiring in the scene.
Since reading The Haunting of Tram Car 015, I’ve been a die-hard Clark fan. I’ll pick up anything the man writes, hands down, no questions asked. While I’ve enjoyed all of his works, it’s been Fatma’s world in particular that has won my heart. Decades before the events of these stories, a mystic named al-Jahiz created a rift in spacetime, allowing djinn, ifrit, ghouls, and all sorts of other magical beings to enter the world. In so doing, he changed the course of history, ushering in a new technological era and ending the British occupation of Egypt.
In A Master of Djinn, we meet Fatma el-Sha’arawi at the start of another case. A British brotherhood dedicated to al-Jahiz (read: buying all his relics) has been killed en masse in a magical inferno. With her rookie partner and her secretive lover, Fatma seeks the mysterious gold-masked man seen at the scene of the crime who claims to be al-Jahiz returned.
Clark’s novel features a striking number of twists and turns that take the reader all around Cairo; each setting is so vividly realized that it feels like the author is an illusion djinn himself. There are enough hooks throughout the story to beget a dozen spin-off stories, which I truly hope we’ll get. I simply don’t want to leave this world. It’s a perfect balance of magic and realism. Sure, there are djinn and spells and mysterious women ready to sweep you off your feet (yes, I have a crush on Siti, leave me be). But Clark keeps a careful eye on the political realities of our world and the implications of the magic he’s introduced. He’s clearly a historian; I always feel like I’m learning even as I’m entranced.
I recommend this book for everyone who wants an action-packed mystery with a strong sense of history and politics; the book manages a delightful escapism while making significant historical observations that never come off as flippant or out-of-place. While this is a standalone work, I recommend taking a read through both “A Dead Djinn in Cairo” (available for free on Tor.Com) and The Haunting of Tram Car 015 ahead of time, since there are some references to both throughout. I’m already looking forward to more.