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 received a free copy of this book from the publisher for review & can confirm all thoughts and opinions are my own.
I thought I knew what I was getting myself in for after reading the two pre-novellas, but Clark took the world and characters from those and blew them both up to epic proportions. As much as I loved the Novellas, having a full length book meant we got to explore both the world and characters to a deeper level and I really struggled to put this book down.
Agent Fatma el-Sha’arawi certainly doesn’t class herself as a rookie, but when someone appears claiming to be a reincarnation of Al-Jahiz, the person who broke down the veil between realms and welcomed magic into the world, she finds herself incredibly out of her depth. Between his magical abilities and his penchant for riling up the populace with engaging speeches condemning social oppressions, she is unsure how to handle him. Alongside her partner Hadia, girlfriend Siti and colleagues in the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities Fatma will have to use every resource available to her if she is to catch the person claiming to be Al- Jahiz and make it out alive.
I’m just going to start off by saying that I love Fatma with my whole heart. She is witty, determined & maybe a little stubborn. Her choice of job, clothing and attitude make her something of an oddity, she almost resents being a woman in a world built for men and does her best to remove herself from any kind of female stereotype. At times this makes her prone to judgment and sometimes disdain for members of her sex, but working with Agent Hadia, and her relationship with Siti make her realise there is more than one kind of ‘powerful’ woman. Hadia is almost the polar opposite of Fatma, she prays daily, makes time for her family and friends and dresses in a more traditionally feminine fashion, none of which stop her from being an incredibly skilled and kick ass agent. She wants nothing more than to prove herself to Fatma, the youngest female Agent in the Ministry, and lends her knowledge and strength to the case on more than one occasion. And then we have Siti who puts the two of them to shame, a member of the Forty Leopards ( a kind of rogue group) she is able to fight in the slinkiest and most daring of outfits & is never one to shy away from an altercation. Siti has faith in the old Gods, and belongs to the church of Hathor, something that is seen as almost heretical in this ‘modern’ world.
Anyone who has read the pre-novellas will notice quite a few returning characters from Agents Hamad and Onsi, co-workers of Fatma at the ministry to Aasim a liaison between Cairo’s police force and the ministry, but we also get introduced to a whole host of other side characters from members of the Brotherhood who were murdered and their families, Djinn of all varieties, Angels, as well as introductions to some other magical creatures. Each character has their part to play in the story, some more pivotal than you may realise at first glance, but when it all starts coming together you see the awesomeness of Clark’s foreshadowing.
My favourite thing about this series, other than fatma herself is Clarks worldbuilding. Epic doesn’t even begin to cover it. When Al-Jahiz brought down the veil between worlds it didn’t just affect Egypt, in fact it happened all over the globe meaning the reintroduction of creatures thought only legend happened world wide. We learn that some have come to peace with their magical brethren, whereas in certain countries the development lead to wars. Because of the scope he gives us, Clark could realistically write a book set in every country of the world, delving into their folklore/mythology, and I can tell you right now I would read every single one. In terms of this book though we do learn about some of the other countries and how they are handling the return of magic, Clark focuses on Egypt and the Djinn, Angels and other creatures that reside there. When the Djinn travelled through to Egypt they brought with them a wealth of knowledge, leading to an industrial revolution and an Egypt that runs on machines and magic We do meet some foreign dignitaries in this book, including a Goblin from Germany but I can’t wait for more information and potential introductions in later books.
This is the perfect books for fans of the grumpy mentor/wide eyed rookie trope. Clark has a way of writing strong powerful women showing that they come in all shapes and sizes, with all kinds of religious backgrounds and they don’t always have to wear pants. Agent Hadia is exactly the kind of doe eyed newbie that Fatma does not want as a partner, but the more time they spend together (usually in some form of danger) Fatma learns that having a partner, especially one with Hadia’s kind of skill set can some in extremely handy. She initially looks down on the woman who wears a headscarf and prays regularly, deeming her as lesser than Fatma herself, but Hadia quickly shows herself to be more than up for the challenge and makes Fatma question her own lifestyle decisions. Fatma, Hadia and Siti couldn’t be more different, but Clark shows them all to be strong and resilient women in a world that is only just beginning to accept them fully.
Clark has a kind of sharp and witty writing style that pulls you into the story, it makes all the parts of the book that could be info dumpy gloriously entertaining, and he writes his characters in a similar style. Going from the Novellas to a full length book, I wondered if the story would drag slightly, however I just never wanted it to end. The way he weaves in Egyptian culture absolutely transports you to his steampunk style Cairo with all it’s modern conveniences, while at the same time he stays true to the religion, beliefs and culture that would have been prevalent at the time. The mystery he weaves through A Master of Djinn is masterfully done (pardon the pun), I buddy read this with a friend and we were forever throwing out ideas as to who Al-Jahiz, or the person claiming to be him was, and when it all came together we couldn’t believe we hadn’t seen it sooner. There are plenty of other twists thrown in for good measure, one of which I could have hit myself for not realising sooner, but they all add together to make a plot that flows brilliantly and a story I didn’t want to finish.
Another 5 star read to add to my year and a series that I can’t ever see myself getting bored of. Between this series and Ring Shout, Clark has cemented himself as an auto-buy author, and I cannot wait to see what he has in store for Agent Fatma and the ministry in the next book.