What to Expect
After three short stories / novelettes, Djèlí Clark delivers us a full length novel in the wonderful world of Fatma el-Sha’arawi! The shorts won many accolades and awards (deservedly), and this novel keeps the quality.
The novel is set on a backdrop of pre-World War Cairo, where Egypt became one of the Great Powers after a mystic released magic back into the world. The return of Djinn and magic allowed for steam-punk advancements, leading to anything from kicking the European colonialist nations out to social advancements like earlier feminism. What starts as a weird murder case for agent Fatma, develops into a national and global danger.
The story focuses on Fatma, but involves many women and their navigation of the patriarchal society through early feminism. It's a curious blend, that feels both true to history and modern perceptions at the same time - a no mean feat.
What I liked
I loved the world-building, absolutely original and top-notch. Djèlí Clark's Cairo feels like a real place, drawing from real-world culture and geography and coming alive as a special setting. It's an excellent mix of alternate-history, mad-science, and magic, coupled with clear prose and engaging storytelling.
What to be aware of
Though not essential, I would recommend reading the short stories first. At least Agent Fatma's first story, Dead Djinn in Cairo, which is freely available on Tor.com (the other shorts are too, I believe). It's a quick read and fun, and will help you orient yourself in the world.
Felix was interested in the mix of magic and technology, and would have loved to see more of that - the workings of steam-and-magic powered automatons especially fascinated him. His latest adventure (in the works) has taught him to better appreciate the finer points of female roles in a patriarchal society, and as for meddling in the affairs of otherworldly entities - well, you're always lucky to escape with just collateral damage there.
Highly recommended to anyone who likes a mix of history, fantasy, steampunk, and strong female characters.
Enjoying the reviews, but wondering who the heck is that Felix fellow? Glad you asked! He's the protagonist of the Togas, Daggers, and Magic series, an historical-fantasy blend of a paranormal detective on the background of ancient Rome.