I’ve been looking forward to P. Djèlí Clark writing a full length novel in what he is now calling his ongoing Dead Djinn series ever since I first listened to The Haunting of Tram Car 015 and A Dead Djinn in Cairo, both set in the same early 1900s alternative Cairo where magic has returned to the world.
As is explained in The Haunting of Tram Car 015, ‘It had been some forty years since the wandering Soudanese genius—or madman, take your pick—had, through a mix of alchemy and machines, bored a hole into the Kaf. The opening of the doorway to the other-realm of the djinn had sent magic pouring out, changing the world forever.’
This Cairo has, with help of the returned djinn, expelled the British. It now has its own homegrown bureaucracies; the one that we are interested in is the Egyptian Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities. The first two stories dealt with a haunted tram and a possibly murdered djinn. (Yes they can die even though they’re immortal.) One of the stories, “A Dead Djinn in Cairo,” introduced us to Fatma el-Sha’arawi, Ministry special investigator, a sort of observant Muslim woman who happens to favor dapper men’s suits and Bowler hats.
Before I get into the review, I should note the author, a historian, does a very cool job of working the themes of gender, class, and post-colonialism into the story here. If you ignore that he’s doing that it won’t spoil your enjoyment of your story; if you’ve got a keen interest in these subjects, you will find much of interest here as these subjects do play out here rather nicely.
Now let me be clear that this is a pulp story with a heroine who has her own sidekick and truly deliciously evil antagonists. The story starts fast, gets faster and never slows down.
So someone murders with great violence a secret brotherhood dedicated to one of the most famous men in history, al- Jahiz, the man who brought magic back. Agent Fatma is called onto the case as it appears that al- Jahiz is now back, even though if he is, he would be over a century old. And this time he’s commanding dark forces indeed, including a djinn and beings who are also of supernatural origins. There’re even ghouls in this mix.
Agent Fatma and her allies will have a fascinating if somewhat perilous time unraveling the mystery of just who this al- Jahiz is and and just what he’s up to. Suffice it to say that I didn’t get who al- Jahiz actually was, nor will you. It’s a great story played out fairly by Djèlí Clar and he certainly has a lot of story left to tell in the Dead Djinn series.
It’s one of the best listens I’ve had in a long time and I’m very much looking forward to future stories set here.