Cairo, 1912: Though Fatma el-Sha’arawi is the youngest woman working for the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities, she’s certainly not a rookie, especially after preventing the destruction of the universe last summer.
So when someone murders a secret brotherhood dedicated to one of the most famous men in history, al-Jahiz, Agent Fatma is called onto the case. Al-Jahiz transformed the world 50 years ago when he opened up the veil between the magical and mundane realms, before vanishing into the unknown. This murderer claims to be al-Jahiz, returned to condemn the modern age for its social oppressions. His dangerous magical abilities instigate unrest in the streets of Cairo that threaten to spill over onto the global stage.
Alongside her Ministry colleagues and her clever girlfriend Siti, Agent Fatma must unravel the mystery behind this imposter to restore peace to the city – or face the possibility he could be exactly who he seems….
Being my most anticipated book of this year, I never expected to get this advance copy. But I overjoyed when it happened and couldn’t wait to get to it. And as expected, this was such fun.
After having read one short and a novella set in this world, I was looking forward to seeing how much more expansive this would get. And I really enjoyed how the author gave us more background about how the Djinn came to inhabit this world and coexist with mortals, the differences in the workings of supernatural creatures in various countries, as well as the disintegration of the British empire. The author also throws a light on the racism and prejudices that form the undercurrent of this world, both from the white people towards the native Egyptians, as well as between the Egyptians who believe in different faiths. All of this information makes us feel like this world is real and vibrant, and immerse ourselves in its sights and sounds. I’ve always admired the author’s writing for his distinctive world building and this one was no less impressive.
The writing is also engaging right away, pulling us into the mystery and sending us on a quest to find the truth along with Agent Fatma. She is delightful as ever, standing out not only due to her signature suits and bowler hats, but also her bravery and drive to do her best. I didn’t expect a partner would work well with her, but the author manages to create a wonderful character in Hadia – she is a perfect foil to Fatma, with her conservative dressing and strong belief in religion, but she is also extremely sharp and fearless, throwing herself in harmful circumstances despite not having a lot of experience. The author weaves an interesting murder mystery plot, mixed with the villain’s desire to control the world, and a volatile time in history when countries are teetering on the cusp of war. This makes the stakes very high, with us worried every step of the way for our favorite agents. In the midst of it, we also get an unexpected sapphic relationship which is full of angst and twists, but deep yearning. However, the author never lets the narrative be all serious – we also get lots of humorous dialogue, either through the Djinn or cameos from the previous stories – making this story very enjoyable.
In conclusion, this was a delight. If you’ve read the previous stories set in this works, you can’t give it a miss. If you are new to the author’s works, do start with A Dead Djinn in Cairo which you can read for free on Tor.com. If you wanna experience a steampunk historical Cairo full of supernatural creatures, fascinating mysteries being solved by very memorable agents, and a what if scenario of colonial powers having lost their hold on their empires much earlier than our real world – then this is a perfect series for you. Just be prepared to be wowed.
PS: Thank you to Netgalley and Tor Books for providing me with this advance copy. All opinions expressed here are unbiased and solely mine.