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Literature / A Master of Djinn

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In an alternate history 1912 Cairo, Fatma el-Sha'arawi works for the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities. The members of a secret brotherhood dedicated to Al-Jahiz, the sorcerer who released magic into the world decades ago, are murdered by someone claiming to be the returned Al-Jahiz himself. Fatma investigates the murders, trying to discover the identity of the imposter. This book was released in 2021, written by P. Djèlí Clark. It has three prequel novellas, A Dead Djinn in Cairo, The Angel of Khan el-Khalili, and The Haunting of Tram Car 015.


  • All Myths Are True: As well as the djinn in Egypt, there are also goblins and fae in Europe. The ancient Egyptian gods also possibly exist.
  • Alternate History: It takes place in an alternate version of Egypt where magic is commonplace and was used to drive out the British colonizers.
  • Animal Motifs: For Siti, cats. She worships the lion goddess Sekhmet and uses metal claws on her gloves to fight. Her djinn form also has cat-like eyes.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: When Hadia is talking to Alexander near the end:
    "I know this must be a difficult time for you. Your sister is an evil maniac bent on world conquest. She killed your father, which is just terrible. Plus, I don’t think this house has much resale value."
  • Bigger on the Inside:
    • Downplayed; Siwa's apartment above a carpet store looks bigger on the inside the first time that Fatma and Hadia visit — it has a luxurious courtyard with a fountain, tasteful library to house his books, and even a tea room decorated with tapestries and teapots bearing camels. The ministry agents realize they're under the effects of an illusion when the details of the room start changing before their very eyes. When they pay Siwa a second visit, they convince him to drop the illusion and they see the apartment for what it really is — crowded with books that spill out of their shelves, littered with receipts for Siwa's gambling debts, and decorated with cheap posters of camel races.
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    • Played Straight; the angelic council took over a human-built palace as their headquarters in Cairo, but they replaced the interior with a vast, extradimensional space to give themselves more room. Visitors have to be assigned guides so that they don't get lost in the maze-like architecture of the pocket dimension.
  • Clockwork Creature: The "boilerplate eunuchs" that serve drinks. There are also the angels, massive Eldritch Abominations inhabiting custom-built clockwork frames.
  • Collective Identity: "Al-Jahiz" is actually five people using illusion magic to Masquerade as the Unseen, led by Abigail Worthington.
  • Death of Personality: Abigail's fate, after a djinn erases her memory.
  • Eager Rookie: Hadia, Fatma's new partner. Fatma initially tries to keep her away from dangerous assignments, but quickly finds that she's very capable.
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  • Eldritch Abomination: The angels. Though they may or may not be actual angels, they're certainly powerful beyond human comprehension. The Nine Ifrit Kings are also an example, being massive fire djinn that ruled in ancient times.
  • Foreshadowing: The ornery Marid that Fatma convinces to return to his bottle at the beginning of the book is astonished to discover that after a thousand years a slumber, there are Djinn openly living alongside mortals, working with them, and "mating with" them. This foreshadows Siti reveal that she's part-Djinn on her father's side.
  • Funny Foreigner: The Worthington family and their associates from England, with their complete lack of knowledge about the local customs. Abigail Worthington tries to speak Arabic but mangles it beyond comprehension. Subverted with all but Alexander when they turn out to be the murderers, disguised as Al-Jahiz. Not only do they know enough about Egyptian society to get many locals on their side, they speak Arabic fluently.
  • Genie in a Bottle: One appears at the beginning of the book, but the only wish he grants the humans who woke him up is to choose how they will die.
  • Government Agency of Fiction: The Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities, the Egyptian agency in charge of dealing with all things magic.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: Siti is half-human and half-djinn. She can shift between both forms at will.
  • How Would You Like to Die?: A Jackass Genie offers the teens who release it one "wish" — to choose how they will die. On their behalf, Agent Fatma chooses old age, in bed, at the end of their natural lives, which even the djinn grudgingly respects. Fatma only hopes that it won't become a Cruel Mercy, since it will prevent them from dying of illness or injury, however debilitating.
  • I Work Alone: Fatma prefers to work alone, which is why she's unpleasantly surprised to learn the Ministry has assigned her Hadia as a partner.
  • Jackass Genie: The Marid introduced at the beginning of the book. After two humans wake him up and ask for wishes, the Marid tells them to decide how they will die. Fatma outsmarts him by asking for them to die from old age at the end of their natural lives. When she wakes him up again later, asking him to remove the spell making her and Hadia forget Sulayman's ring, he grudgingly does what she asks. But he makes the process excruciatingly painful, just because Fatma didn't tell him not to make it painful.
  • Magic Fire: Agent Fatma is familiar with all kinds of magical fire, but she is initially stumped by a murder scene at the Worthington Mansion where the victims burned alive but their clothes were untouched. It turns out to be the fire of an ifrit.
  • Master of Illusion: A djinn called Siwa makes his small home look like a palace using illusion. Abigail Worthington is also one, using illusion to appear as Al-Jahiz.
  • Mind-Control Device: The Ring of Sulayman, a ring that can control all djinn.
  • No Man Should Have This Power: After the events of the book, Fatma recommends to the Ministry to destroy the Clock of Worlds. She also gives the Ring of Sulayman to Ahmad to hide where no one can find it, even herself.
  • Note to Self: Fatma and Hadia write notes to themselves telling them to remember Sulayman's ring, which has a spell making it very difficult for humans to remember.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Abigail Worthington acts like a hysterical, somewhat airheaded woman. However, she is actually the mastermind behind the murders, and almost succeeds in her plan of world domination.
  • Only the Pure of Heart: The Ring of Sulayman only reveals its true form to someone who has pure motives.
  • Running Gag:
    • Hadia's seemingly inexhaustible supply of cousins, all of whom work for an industry that proves to be important or know a piece of information that turns out to be crucial. She's even able to get Siwa to open up about his gambling addiction because she claims a cousin of hers suffers from the same affliction.
    • Ahmad has a habit of stalking out of the shadows whenever he wants to hold a conversation with Agent Fatma, not realizing his crocodilian features make his appearance more of a Jump Scare than a Stealth Hi/Bye. When he apologizes, he asks if he's being creepy and always gets an affirmative.
  • Sharp Dressed Woman: Fatma always wears expensive suits, complete with a cane and bowler hat.
  • Tongue-Tied: A spell on all djinn prevents them from talking about the Ring of Sulayman. One djinn, Siwa, actually cuts out his tongue when Fatma and Hadia question him, thanks to a spell by Abigail — his magic results in the tongue growing back, and he's forced to repeat the process dozens of times.
  • Verbal Tic: "Fascinating!" Fatma witnessed the angel named Maker commit ritualistic suicide in A Dead Djinn in Cairo, and is shocked to see an identical angel on the angelic council, not realizing that this is Maker's replacement. Fatma mistakes the replacement for the original before the replacement has the chance to introduce herself. Maker's replacement (also called Maker) is excited to learn more about humans, and often ends her sentences with "Fascinating!" when describing their behavior.