This is such an interesting place to start this series! It was very obviously written prior to the publication of the first true “novel” in the series (A Master of Djinn) but very much feels like the sort of novella you read after you’ve finished the main book and are just desperate for more content in the same universe.
A number of my friends enjoyed The Daevabad Trilogy, but I unfortunately found the first book lacking some of that ‘draw’ that makes you want to quickly read the next book in a series. I think that’s what made me initially hesitant to start this novel. If I had to characterize my remove from The City of Brass, there was too much exposition and info dump type conversation very early on combined with a distinct lack of tension when it came to the stakes our main characters were facing.
Clark has…none of these pacing issues. A Dead Djinn in Cairo starts off assuming that the reader will pick up on the names and mythology that infuses alternate!Cairo, with just the right balance of exposition (it’s important that you know how/why the world has djinn/magic in it) and show don’t tell (I’m not saying Fatma is a gay style icon but I’m also pointing out that she’s wearing a super snazzy suit and carries a cane).
I’m extrapolating a lot based on a short story vs a full-fledged novel, but I’ll take a stab anyhow: I’m not one to feel like authors can’t write the outside of their #ownvoices experience. But I feel like Clark and Chakraborty, when contrasted in how they approach their similar Middle Eastern/Islamic culture settings, shows the power boost you get when an author draws from their experiences (and not necessarily their own identity!).
Chakraborty grew up in New Jersey and converted to Islam in her teens, and has spoken at length about how she has found solace and community in the Islamic community. The seeds for The City of Brass came from a visit to the rare books library of the American University of Cairo during a study abroad, and the stories she read were super inspiring and “dazzling.”
Clark grew up in Queens and, as far as I can tell, isn’t Muslim. But he talks about how from an early age “a lot of Afro-Caribbean folklore, Hindu cosmology and Muslim festivals (like Hosay)—[were] part of my environment.” Amusingly he also studied abroad in Cairo.
To be clear, I personally felt like A City of Brass was too heavy on the exposition world building, in that it felt like Chakraborty had done this research and wanted to share it with her readers. She’s open about having written this book to provide strong, well rounded characters who also happened to be Muslim (and djinn, to be fair). It comes across as…an ambassadorial tool? Whereas (in this SHORT story) Clark seems much more relaxed about his world. It’s your responsibility as the reader to educate yourself and get invested in a culture that’s less accessible to a Western audience.
IN ANY CASE, looking forward to the next book!