So, we’re back with another edition of ‘Should [insert title] win a Hugo?‘ and while I understand that Hugo voting already took place on August 11th, I didn’t want to let my tardiness prevent me from posting about this awesome book.
(Honestly I will probably continue to post reviews of Hugo nominated works in this format up until and even after the winners are announced. I just like the ring of the title lol)
And the answer, for me, is ABSOLUTELY!
There is so much to consider within these 392 pages that it’s really hard to figure out where to even begin with my review, but I think it might be safe to begin with what the general public might enjoy, before diving into my particular brand of Ancient Egypt – centric nonsense.
A review over on Josh Garik16’s SciFi/Fantasy Reviews and Other Thoughts, points out just how ‘fun’ A Master of Djinn is to read. I couldn’t agree more. Agents Fatma and Hadia have excellent back-and-forth, while her and Siti exhibit the type of witty romance we all wish we might fall into someday. Then there’s Fatma’s rapport with Aasim from the police, and of course agents Ahmed and Onsi . . . her short shrift for self important djinn . . . Really just Fatma DOING ANYTHING is a joy to behold.
Perhaps the next feature of this book which deserves attention, is its deft handling of Theme (with a capital T lol). Of course, modern day Cairo is an intricate mix of different peoples, religions, beliefs and customs. Clark’s ‘Steampunk Cairo‘ does not shy away from this complexity in A Master of Djinn but rather embraces it, using it as a platform to examine issues of race, and prejudice. Ultimately, Clark’s version of Cairo is not a utopia in which all of these issues are washed away, but a city very much still grappling with them. Though nothing can be solved in a single adventure, I left the story feeling hopeful at the very least.
Finally, perhaps the most awe inspiring part of A Master of Djinn is the worldbuilding. All of the mystical and mundane beings we met in A Dead Djinn in Cairo (as well as a major plot point which I won’t spoil) return, and are even more mysterious, magical, and amazing. Readers will recognize one particular market from The Angel of Khan El-Kahlili, and I’ve already mentioned two returning characters from The Haunting of Tram Car 015, but the world of this novel is sooo much bigger than these little winks to previous installments. A Master of Djinn truly earns the ‘epic’ part of epic fantasy, with international intrigue, kings, courts, imperialism, and more magic than I could describe in a single post (all the while hitting all the beats of a thrilling mystery too).
But because I’m me, I was enraptured by the nods to Cairo (and Egypt’s) more ancient past. One of the first places we see is the Temple of Hathor, dedicated to the “Lady of Stars”. Here Clark clearly did his research, providing the more common depiction of Hathor with statuary involving calf’s horns, and representative of motherhood etc. But I also felt his incorporation of the duality between Hathor and Sekhmet (something it seems Disney’s Moon Knight is doing also) clever as well.
In general, we see more Ancient Egyptian gods and goddesses than we have yet seen in any previous installment. We actually meet Sobek, and cults to Anubis, Nephthys, and Set are implied if not shown. I can’t remember if any others are mentioned, but what I enjoyed the most about their inclusion, was that Clark was not afraid to take liberties with the myths, and really made them fit the story he was trying to tell (for instance Set and Sobek are roommates because housing in Cairo is expensive (wow does that speak to me)). And when agent Fatma points out inaccuracies in how the myths play out, well:
“Ahmad’s generous nostrils flared as he gritted his sharp teeth.Clark, P. Djeli; A Master of Djinn pg. 63-64 (2021)
‘Why is everyone so slavish to texts written thousands of years ago?’ he snapped. ‘Gods can change. Grow apart. Try new things. Besides, Set was a jerk. He never knew how to treat her properly. How to worship her.’
I guess the author knew there’d be people in the audience pushing up their spectacles and raising a finger to say “Excuse me . . .” Why not head us off at the pass. It got me laughing at least.
One last interesting incorporation of Ancient Egyptian mythology was essentially the incorporation of human avatars for the Ancient Gods (Ahmad being the most prominent), and the in-world belief that the God’s tombs existed in the world somewhere and presumably could be found, and that the gods could ‘awaken’.
So far as I know, Ancient Egyptians only ever built tombs for human beings. Human beings which they believed would more or less take the form of Gods in the afterlife (or during your regular life if you were the Pharaoh).
I only think these things are interesting because they were also espoused in Disney’s recent superhero series Moon Knight. It is interesting to me that this would appear in two pieces of media around relatively the same time, considering I don’t think any scholars are espousing this view. It would be interesting to try and hunt down where these ideas are coming from, but I’m sure I have zero idea how to even begin that search.
Focus Dude . . . Award?
Anyway, yes, if we’re going off of what I’ve read so far, I absolutely want A Master of Djinn to win best novel. I enjoyed Andy Weir’s Project Hail Mary but I don’t think it stood out to me as a Hugo contender the way this book did.
Anyway, that’s all I have for now. Have you read this one? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!!
See you next time!