The Sunday Magazine: A Master of Djinn by P. Djeli Clark

I do love the readers of this column. You are an endless source of discovery for me. A few weeks back I wrote about how I enjoy the kind of fiction which combines a whodunit in a fantasy setting. A reader wrote to me to tell me about a version of a whodunit set in a steampunk world. I looked it up and soon after downloaded “A Master of Djinn” by P. Djeli Clark. It didn’t disappoint.

This is the first novel featuring Mr. Clark’s characters who work at the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities in 1912 Cairo. He had written three previous short stories with these characters. A Master of Djinn is the first novel-length adventure. Agent Fatma, who is the narrator, is assigned to the case when a secret brotherhood is killed. The group was dedicated to Al-Jahiz who opened the way to the magical realms. This is a great detective story as Fatma works her way through the case.

As with all stories in this genre there is a memorable cast of supporting characters. One of them is Agent Hadia who is assigned to help on the case. She is the ostensible rookie assigned to the grizzled vet. Her job is to ask the questions the reader has so Fatma can answer them. Too often an author just lets that happen. Mr. Clark broadens Hadia’s story enough that she feels like these books going forward should be called “Fatma and Hadia Casefiles”.

The other part of this is setting the book in Egypt. Most steampunk takes place in more recognizable settings. The better to enjoy the differences of the steam-powered contraptions. Mr. Clark has much more fun putting most readers at the disadvantage of not knowing ancient Cairo very well. He is an historian in his non-fiction life. That shows throughout the book as the Colonialism of the time is a considerable presence.

If you need a fun read over this last part of the summer take yourself to steampunk Cairo.

Mark Behnke