Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark

A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Thanks to NetGalley for the free ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Luckily, I get to rave about what makes this book so great.

Master of Djinn is more than just an extremely fun adventure-romance (in the literary and popular sense)-murder mystery. (There’s also clockwork/steampunk elements, because Clark saw us all coming and threw as many things into this blender as possible.) It puts colonialism and racism, the patriarchy, disenfranchisement, and slavery under a microscope, all while infusing it with humor, sarcasm, and memes. (Clark reminds us that the 21st century didn’t invent that shit, bless him.)

I love Clark’s re-imagining of a Cairo – of an Egypt – independent of British rule, establishing itself as a world player in a critical moment in time. The unmasking of the conspiracy at the tangled heart of the story mirrors the real history of Otto von Bismarck and the complex web of secret deals he brokered amongst world powers that led to the outbreak of World War One. I don’t know how Clark managed to do that so elegantly while including those same world powers on the precipice of their conflict in the story. That’s what makes this book so powerfully good: the use of bombastic adventure tropes to distract you from the reality that you’re reading some sophisticated and subtle storytelling. Layers of misdirection, for the characters and the readers!

Let’s talk about the characters. Fatma is complicated and willful and deeply good. She makes mistakes and does better next time, and does it with style and panache. Siti is funny and sexy and has sharp edges and claws and always shows up when someone she cares about needs her. Hadia is ambitious and smart and skillful and sly. They are all devoted to family in their own way. It shouldn’t be so rare to find a book written by a man with female characters who feel like they were written by a woman, but it is, making this book a rarity twice over.

I highly recommend reading at least “A Dead Djinn in Cairo“, if not also The Haunting of Tram Car 015 , before reading this novel.




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The Unbroken by C.L. Clark

The Unbroken by C.L. Clark

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This book is all about messy, complicated relationships, and how they’re even messier and more complicated by colonialism and power dynamics. It’s also about the messed-up choices people make in pursuit of their ideals and goals, the lies they tell themselves and others, and the how vulnerable they become when they start telling the truth. The interpersonal dynamics of both the major and minor characters in The Unbroken are what take a good story and make it great.




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The Changeover by Margaret Mahy

The Changeover by Margaret Mahy

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This book haunts me and sticks with me. I first read it when I was about 12 years old – it had a horrible teen supernatural romance cover that I remembered for years afterwards, like I remembered just enough bits of the story to keep turning it over in my mind: the stamp, the horribleness of Carmody Braque, the strangeness of Sorry Carlyle, and Laura’s transformation.

Laura’s transformation looms so large in my mind, I’m always surprised by how little of the book is actually given to it. The bookends of that scene in the bathroom of the Carlyle home stood out to me on the latest re-read, so rich and grounded with place and character details of the home and this family ushering Laura over the thresholds. I’m also struck by the frankness of Mahy’s writing about sex and emerging sexuality, and how it is treated by mothers and daughters as something that is acceptable and necessary to discuss like adults, not a shameful thing to be hidden and avoided. This also struck me on a recent first-time read of Catalogue of the Universe>.

I return to this book every ten years or so for another read through. Just long enough to forget just enough so the story feels fresh but also like an old friend. There are so many things I love in stories that exist in this book – witches, transformations, inexplicable recognition and inexplicable bonds between unlikely partners, sibling relationships, and turning the tables on the villain.

I can’t decide if I’ll start re-reading this more frequently, or if I need to acquire more of Mahy’s novels so I can re-read those as well.




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The Mask of Mirrors (Rook & Rose, #1) by M.A. Carrick

The Mask of Mirrors by M.A. Carrick

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I consider myself very lucky to have received an ARC of this book from NetGalley by way of the World Fantasy Convention virtual book bag. Not only did I get to read this fabulous book that was completely off my radar, but now I have a NetGalley account to get more books in advance.

This book caught my attention even before I learned that M.A. Carrick is a pen name with Marie Brennan and Alyc Helms on the other side. I am not familiar with Helms, but have enjoyed some of Brennan’s work and was happy to read more. And there’s a lot to love about this book!

I’m a sucker for fantasy Venice, and this one delivered both the familiar and the unfamiliar. The language is distinct (not just fantasy-bastardized Italian); while the city is a canal city, it’s not just Venice was a mask and a hat on; and the story explores colonialism and class conflict, not merchants versus monarch neighbors.

Once I learned that Marie Brennan was half of this writing duo, I knew I was in for some rich world building, both micro (the clothing details!) and macro (the geopolitical history!). It took me a while to get the hang of it (mostly the geopolitical history), because my hand was not held very much, but I eventually sorted out the different people groups, where they came from, what they called themselves, what they called each other, and why the city is contentiously shared. I appreciate that the focus of the story was continually on the characters, social interactions, and the intrigues of the plot, and not on massive exposition dumps that might have cleared up the history but at the expense of boring me and making me put the book down.

The political intrigue is built around actual local politics, not a monarch’s court, a war, high-society family feuding, or a disruptive incident like an election or new head of a powerful family. All of those can produce wonderful and thrilling stories, but I have been looking for something different, and I found it here. Rather then starting with a disruption and following characters who try to leverage it to attain their goals, this plot is the unfolding of the disruption amidst everyone’s schemes and agendas. Also, we follow characters representing several sectors of society’s lowest tiers, rather than the highest. None of our main characters just happens to know someone in the nobility or the slums in order to get that tier on the page; they all work hard for their interactions.

Beware if you’re easily lost or put off by large casts of characters! I really like this in a story, even when I lose track of people and forget who they are. It was a little tough because different characters referred to each other by different forms of their names, and there were a few secondary characters that became muddled for me, especially because I had to take a month-long break in the middle of reading this book. However, everyone was distinct enough that I recalled who they were and how they fit into the story as the scenes progressed, so I was never lost for long.

Tl;dr: this book made me happy. It’s stuffed full of my big-fat-fantasy-novel joys. It didn’t drag like (I quite honestly have come to expect from) a 600+ page book, it wasn’t two or three books smashed into one, or a book that didn’t know when to stop and so ended on a cliffhanger/left some huge part of the plot unresolved to shortcut into the next book. The pacing was tight. The story wrapped up, justice was served, the characters advanced in their goals. In doing so the positions and relationships between the main characters shift so that new tensions emerge that will drive the interpersonal aspects of whatever the next plot is, and I am really looking forward to it.

(I can’t believe I reviewed this whole book on Goodreads and NetGalley and forgot to talk about the magic systems! There’s both spiritually-based intuitive tarot reading and a mathematical-based system that reminds me of the alchemy from Fullmetal Alchemist. They’re both 100% rad and included in my “big-fat-fantasy-novel joys”.)



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Magic for Liars – Sarah Gailey

Magic for LiarsMagic for Liars by Sarah Gailey

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 stars. I adore Sarah Gailey, and loved American Hippo. While I enjoyed reading Magic for Liars, it didn’t surprise me very much. I think the magic-school setting overtook the L.A. noir elements, so it didn’t feel like the true genre mash-up I was looking for. I will say, the ending is depressing af, and that nailed the noir mood.

I recommend Magic for Liars to those who like character-driven detective stories, magic school settings, sibling relationships, and adult-coming-of-age stories.

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