After reading The Haunting of Tram Car 015 last year, I was hooked to the alternate Cairo P Djeli Clark created. And when I heard he was going to be 1) releasing his first full-length novel 2) it was set in his alternate Cairo, I knew I had to read it. And thankfully this book exceeded my expectations.
This book releases on May 11th, 2021, but I knew I had to read this before pub day.
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….
I think the one thing that I can always trust from a book by P Djeli Clark is super rich descriptions and a level of world-building on the same level as the great fantasy writers. The depth of description even to include the backstory of that building or event or thing that’s being described is exceptional. It’s extremely visual, which makes me want to see this one on the big screen. I think that this would translate so easily with a story that will definitely keep you watching.
I absolutely loved agent Fatma and agent Hadia. I loved that Fatma is the old pro while Hadia is the new kid on the block. It reminded me of the Haunting of Tram Car 015 and the two agents that are from different worlds working together and doing it well. I was rooting for Hadia and worried for her since she’s so new and green to the Ministry, but my worries were immediately assuaged when she jumped right into the fight without any hesitation. Also, her level of deduction was awesome as well; almost as good as the one Fatma has.
Which brings us to the mystery component to this fantasy book. While there was definitely a “whodunit” feel to the book, it didn’t feel like a real crime mystery where the clues all led to some nefarious being. In fact, the clues were super easy and I had a feeling about who was the suspect before getting halfway through the book. Was I right? Yep! However, it didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the book. I didn’t come into the book thinking that it’d be a whodunit, so my expectations on that level were low. But I felt like the story is less about the mystery and more about this fantastical world and the work Fatma does for the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities. I loved getting to know Fatma throughout the story. The little things like the suits she wears and the people she associates with were interesting and all so realized. It really immersed me in the story and made me invested especially when the djinn and ifrit come along and the story really starts to take hold.
I think the only issue I had is that it dragged a bit every once in a while. I mean, I’m not surprised that it did given how deeply descriptive Clark gets in some instances. However, there were points where I wanted less description and more action or more details into the case.
Overall a great story filled with adventure all the way through. The magic was great and I loved how the story moved. Definitely going to be reading more from Clark!
Thanks Tor dot com for a gifted copy of this book. My opinions have not been influenced by the publisher or the author.