Book Review: “A Dead Djinn in Cairo” by P. Djèlí Clark

Blurb

(via goodreads)

Egypt, 1912. In an alternate Cairo infused with the otherworldly, the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities investigate disturbances between the mortal and the (possibly) divine. What starts off as an odd suicide case for Special Investigator Fatma el-Sha’arawi leads her through the city’s underbelly as she encounters rampaging ghouls, saucy assassins, clockwork angels, and a plot that could unravel time itself.

Review

I read Clark’s other Egyptian steampunk novella, The Haunting of Tram Car 015 (read my review here), prior to picking up A Dead Djinn in Cairo. Possibly this was remiss of me, since The Haunting of Tram Car 015 is set after the events of A Dead Djinn in Cairo, but the two novellas can each function as independent standalones even though they’re set in the same universe. I also believe that The Haunting of Tram Car 015 worked better as a story within the shorter span of a novella, whereas A Dead Djinn in Cairo suffered for the lack of length.

I am struggling to not continue comparing the two novellas; it’s very difficult, because of the two of them The Haunting of Tram Car 015 is definitely my favorite. A Dead Djinn in Cairo feels… rushed. It was too cataclysmic of a conflict that was solved too quickly for my tastes. There were a few elements of a mystery plot at work in the story, but these were not explored deeply or well — perhaps for the sake of brevity, the protagonist gets most of the necessary background information handed to her by a third party. I think there was definitely room for expansion in the investigative work Fatma could have done to unravel the conundrum presented by the dead djinn.

However, I loved Fatma as a character. She is a woman working in a male-dominated space, and chose to embrace her eccentricity rather than conform to anybody’s idea of what is normal or appropriate — and her Muslim family supports her independent career. She’s capable. She’s confident. She throws herself into the breach to take on eldritch horrors and beings far grander than her own human self.

I also loved Siti, the assassin. She’s absolutely amazing and a rebel to the core, and pretty much asked Fatma out for a date. I am dying to know how that turns out and whether she and Fatma become (more than) friends. The next installment of Fatma’s adventures (hopefully with Siti and the characters from The Haunting of Tram Car 015) is a novel titled A Master of Djinn, and will be released in 2021. I am very excited to see how Clark — who has so far only published novellas — expands into a longer work.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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