A Master of Djinn by P. Djeli Clark is the author’s first full length novel debut. After having read his previous short story of which this novel is based on and having it been the finalist for the 2020 Huge and Nebula Award, there was no chance I’d miss his debut. Although The Haunting of Tram Car 015 didn’t exactly blew me away, it did enough to put this author on my watch list and I got my wish of a full length novel from him! However, what I got out of it is eerily similar to what I remember experiencing with his novella. I expected so much more.
Of all the djinn these two had to go and wake up, it had to be a bigot. – Agent Fatma
Make no mistake about it. A Master of Djinn is a “whodunit” murder mystery set in an alternate magical and steampunk Egypt. Although the world building aspect is there, what I felt that held this down the most is the subpar characters. The main protagonist in agent Fatma just cannot hold her own in a novel of this length. Her character does enough to make it to the end of the story but as soon as it ends, there seems to be absolutely nothing that makes me beg for another story with her in it. Her one defining trait if you could call it that is that she likes to dress differently than most other women. She does have some funny and witty moments in the beginning from what I remember but was later dragged down by the story itself. It also doesn’t help that her supporting cast members were also lackluster. This shortcoming would have been smoothed out a bit by introducing more djinn characters into the story to make for more interesting dialogue. As it is, conversations between the characters felt a bit mundane. For so much talk of the djinn creatures living side by side with humans, there’s not much involvement with them except for a few occasions. Adding a bit more political intrigue into the mix might have also helped. The setup was definitely there for the author to take advantage of but sadly for me, it wasn’t done.
“What truths can a man hiding behind a mask reveal?” – Amina
Another shortcoming that I wish the author hadn’t done is the rushed ending. It’s another one of those things where the story went from 0-60mph in a few pages. The entire story up to that point had a steady if somewhat slow grind to it but all of a sudden, the “big event” needed to happen and all hell broke loose. On a positive note, I really did like the the setting and location of a futuristic steampunk Egypt. It’s fresh and the author did a good job expanding on it. One thing I found interesting with A Master of Djinn is some of the similarities also found in the Daevabad trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty.
It’s hard for me to recommend A Master of Djinn unless you’re a newcomer to the fantasy genre. The author deserves a pass being this is his debut full length novel but I’d be wary if I have to read another novel with these same characters in it.