My rating: 5 of 5 stars
“A Dead Djinn In Cairo” is a short story that kickstarts the Dead Djinn Universe by P. Djèlí Clark. You can find it in various formats, as a 43-page ebook on Amazon, as a short story published for free on Tor.com, and lastly I was able to find an audiobook version read by Suehyla El-Attar Young via my public library’s subscription to hoopla. (Side note: I’ve been listening to a lot of Young’s narration lately, and I have no complaints about that.) The audio version was put out by Macmillian Audio and clocks in at a little under two hours.
Our story is set in 1912 in an alternate Cairo that has been dealing with supernatural disturbances. This Cairo has a king and a constitution, and “Everyone has rights, no matter their work.” It also boasts automated wheeled carriages, airships, two-seater gliders, and aerial trams powered by electricity. The world has to deal with the supernatural because about forty years ago, a famed Soudanese mystic and inventor named al-Jahiz used their mysticism and machines to create a hole to the Kaf, the realm where the djinn hail from, before disappearing and taking his machines with him.
This world also has angels, “or at least the beings that claimed to be so,” who “appeared after the djinn, suddenly and without warning.” Angels have nearly ephemeral bodies which require frames made from iron, steel, and gears mimicking muscles and bone to house them. They are quite tall, and can be up to twelve feet tall. Both djinn and angels do not share their true names with humans, preferring to use pseudonyms based on places or purpose, respectively.
It is here where we meet our main character, Special Investigator Fatma el-Sha’arawi as she investigates the supposed suicide of an elder djinn. She wears masculine English clothing that she has tailored to her smaller frame, and understands that constables in the area are still uncomfortable to work with women even though they say they’re a modern department. She grew up in a small village, then went to an all-women college in Luxor before finding employment with the Egyptian Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities.
I greatly enjoyed the world building in this short story. It’s kind of amazing how much of the world we see and come to understand in just 43 pages. This story has a lovely blend of sci-fi and fantasy, some of my favorite genres. There’s also the hint of a sapphic relationship to come, which I’m pretty excited about.
View all my reviews
My rating: 5 of 5 stars