To be clear from the get-go, I hope A Master of Djinn is the first of a series. It’s got an interesting world, a twist of the classic steampunk which takes the perspective of the Egyptians not the English with a strong reliance of the local folklore/mythology (as opposed to the European traditions), it’s got some interesting characters, like Agent Fatma a queer lady Agent of the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities, Siti her capricious lover, and Agent Hadia rookie partner. Some of the other characters are pretty great as well, but especially Ahmad. I’m not even going to try to explain him because most any details would be a little spoilery.
The premise is a little standard but it so works here; there a mysterious person claiming to be a legendary powerful individual returned to avenge the wrongs done to his people who is probably connected to the murder of a secret brotherhood dedicated to who he claims to be, and there’s also a lot of general political tension between people, countries, classes, etc.
There’s plenty of adventure while Agent Fatma who doesn’t really want an eager beaver partner but is basically stuck with one goes about with Hadia trying to figure out what’s going on with the supposed return of al-Jahiz and meeting with various key individuals including djinn, angels who seem more mechanical than celestial (I’m not sure what’s up with that, a little more info on them would have been nice), and cultists dedicated to the older gods of the area, among others.
There’s a lot of girl power here even as the world of the story acknowledges a sexism problem, both among the eventual good, bad, and ambiguous characters. Fatma is essentially the first woman to do her and Hadia the second, a head priestess and Siti are both pretty key to helping with the investigations, there’s the head of a gang of lady thieves, and a few others who all factor in. Men are present but often more background than anything else; the focus really is on the ladies which adds to the interesting. I have to admit, the final confrontation with the villain behind everything had a very strong suggestion of a key scene or two from Lord of the Rings, which makes the blend of sci-fi and fantasy inherent in steampunk all the more interesting.
Overall, this was a fun read. The mystery isn’t as much the point but even that had its moments. The story concludes in a way that makes it a stand-alone but there’s enough left for the possibilities of further adventures of Fatma and friends. I would love to see more of this.