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Column: Steampunk and magic swirl through an evocative thriller in 1912 Cairo

Richmond Public Library staff provides bi-weekly book reviews
A Dead Djinn in Cairo
A Dead Djinn in Cairo by P. Djèlí Clark

Ever since reading P. Djèlí Clark’s short story “A Dead Djinn in Cairo” I have wanted to live in the world he’s building. In it, magic has returned to the world, Djinn walks among humans and has brought both magic and technology to the people of Egypt, allowing them to expel their colonizers and take a lead on the world stage. Clark’s novella, “The Haunting of Tram Car 015” expanded on this world and introduced some new characters.

“A Master of Djinn” is the first full-length novel set in this world and brings together the characters from the shorter works, along with some memorable new additions. It stands alone without reading the earlier works, but you will want to just to experience more of this beautiful setting with its rich tapestry of the senses.

The story follows Agent Fatma el-Sha’arawi, the youngest woman working for the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities as she works to solve the bizarre murder of a group of rich Englishmen who were all part of a secret society. The case weaves her through the slums, dives, and mansions of every part of Cairo society, and tangles up politics, religion, the changing roles of women, the impact of racial prejudices, and the history of colonialism, eventually threatening to tear Cairo apart and bringing Europe to the verge of war. Navigating all of this, Agent Fatma and her friends and colleagues have to walk a fine line between the law, their respective faiths, and the various divisions in their society that can fracture under stress.

The result is a fast-paced, thrilling, and ultimately satisfying journey through an exciting land. On Clark’s website, it is listed as book one of a series, and I can’t wait for the subsequent novels to have a chance to return to his Cairo.

Dethe Elza is a Digital Services Technician normally found at the Brighouse Branch of the Richmond Public Library, running online programs on technology, art, and games.