- Author: P. Djèlí Clark
- Series: Dead Djinn Universe #1
- Genre: Alternate History, Fantasy & Mystery
- No. of pages: 416
- Dates read: 12.10.2022 – 21.10.2022
- Star Rating: 5 stars
Plot: Cairo, 1912: Though Fatma el-Sha’arawi is the youngest woman working for the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities, she’s certainly not a rookie, especially after preventing the destruction of the universe last summer. So when someone murders a secret brotherhood dedicated to one of the most famous men in history, al-Jahiz, Agent Fatma is called onto the case. Al-Jahiz transformed the world 50 years ago when he opened up the veil between the magical and mundane realms, before vanishing into the unknown. This murderer claims to be al-Jahiz, returned to condemn the modern age for its social oppressions. His dangerous magical abilities instigate unrest in the streets of Cairo that threaten to spill over onto the global stage. Alongside her Ministry colleagues and her clever girlfriend Siti, Agent Fatma must unravel the mystery behind this imposter to restore peace to the city – or face the possibility he could be exactly who he seems….
I had heard so many things about this series specially Clark’s previous short stories. (FYI: These stories are available to read for free on Tor.com.) I needed another fantasy series in my life as this year has been the year for finishing series. I enjoyed his short stories but they didn’t blow me away as I had originally hoped so I was a bit apprehensive to start the novel.
That being said I had nothing to worry about whatsoever! This has been one of the best new fantasy books I have read in a long time. This book was up there with Sanderson for me in terms of plot, world-building, characters, everything!
Starting off, the world-building… IMMACULATE. Set in an alternate history version of Cairo where a man opened a whole in the human realm and the Djinn realm causing Djinn to flock into the human world and start living there. 50 years later the world has seen extreme technological advancement in a beautiful and exciting steampunk way and now there are dealing with living side by side with magical entities. I loved exploring this world as 1. I love historical fiction settings and 2. I love Steampunk.
Seeing the way Clark formulates with blend of the magic and the mundane and the areas where they both meet was just masterful. I could genuinely just read more about how this world functions and have not mystery whatsoever. I felt that Clark did a great job of not only placing you firmly into Cairo itself but giving you glimpses into the world as a whole. It was such a fun thing to explore.
One thing that Clark also did extremely well was discussing things such as colonisation, war, western powers etc. and taking the stuff we know from history but putting it into a brand new fresh and magical world. Discussing corruption, bad working conditions, the class divide was done so so well but done masterfully considering this new alternate version of Cairo. Still reflecting the world at the time but through a slightly different lens.
In terms of characters… I just love Fatma. What a woman. I loved her determination, her drive, her intelligence. But what I loved so much about this book was the championing of women in general. With Hadia, Fatma’s naive but enthusiastic partner to the alluring and dangerous Siti who takes no prisoners. Seeing these 3 women work together was incredible and one of the main reasons I loved this book so much.
In terms of plot, I always get a tad nervous when it comes to fantasy mysteries because they either focus more on the mystery or more on the fantasy element. This story was a perfect balance. I loved the fantasy side of things and getting lost in the world and all that it entails and then I really enjoyed the exhilaration of the mystery itself. Interrogating the suspects, finding clues. It was balanced really well with an ending I personally could guess but that didn’t diminish how great the plot was.
Overall, this was amazing and I need the sequel ASAP!