6 thoughts on ““A Dead Djinn In Cairo,” by P. Djeli Clark”

  1. Oof. This was the first story that I read from this discussion group that I couldn’t finish, although I tried. The first paragraph already hinted at trouble: an investigator for a magical ministry, a crime, a so-standard urban fantasy setup. And ploddingly the story continued. The crime was investigated, an incursion of mythical beings into our world was given as backstory, the beings were made to seem pretty mundane by the way they were described… The investigator was urban-fantasy central casting, pretty much, as a lone tough woman in a man’s job (though the bit about her "exotic" clothes was amusing).

    The writing fell down on making anything of its promise over and over. From clumsy infodumps, to dialogue that could be spoken in a modern city, to cliche-ridden phrases like "The djinn, especially, took to the age, their penchant for building yielding more wonders than could be counted. Egypt now sat as one of the great powers, and Cairo was its beating heart."

    I gave up halfway through. How, with such a setting — Cairo, with its layered history, in the early 20th century, a period of dramatic change, and drawing on the resources of North African and Islamic folklore, which have a long and complex record — how could the story turn out to be so boring?

  2. I got through it. This one of those stories that I categorize as "a light romp." I never know how to review those; they’re light and weightless and there’s just nothing to take seriously. It’s not a failure (and writing anything coherent is DAMN HARD) but it doesn’t exactly succeed at anything either.

    This one, specifically, had me groaning a whole bunch. A lot was the feeling of being by-the-numbers – the investigator with backstory instead of a personality; the assistant with one single (loathsome) defining trait; the imperious-but-pure character who turns out to have Been Behind It All Along, the hand-wave-y Awful Ritual of Awfulness that makes for such convenient plot coupons

    But a lot of it was more subtle – just moments where a certain laziness of writing stood out as *really* self-evident.

    > "The writing." She pointed at the script. "It’s the same."
    > "What? You’re certain?"
    > Fatma nodded. She was positive.

    "Two tiny snippets of handwriting look vaguely similar! IRONCLAD PROOF this thing killed himself horribly!"

    > Its mouth fixed into a rictus, it croaked, "The Rising!"

    Its mouth fixed into a rictus, it croaked, "The Macguffin!"

    > "Forgive us. Siti was only sent as a messanger. But she has more of Sekhmet in her than most, and can be… overzealous."

    "Forgive us. Siti was only sent as a narrative device. That previous action scene actually has no consequence or significance whatsoever."

    …and so on. There were a lot of little things that seemed calculated to hurry the story along, rather than make any sense.

    I’m curious to go back and see what the reviews I noticed liked about this one. I can see people enjoying this as a fun little diversion, but I can’t really say it stands apart from a million others, and there are so many which are *better* fun little diversions.

    1. Yep, yep. Right at the start there is a detailed description of the tight-3rd-person-POV character due to having her glance at herself in a shiny surface — isn’t that on the list of not-to-do given to novice writers?

  3. Some questions are better left unasked. But can I just say that one of my *first* reactions inside the story was: "If all the blood’s been drained out of the djinn’s body, why on *Earth* is Aasim so impressed by the djinn’s member?"

    …I might *possibly* have been feeling a little less charitable after that.

  4. Two snippets of handwriting really might be enough to establish identity. (I worked on handwriting recognition software for 14 years, so I’m well-versed in the area.) That is, if the snippets were of the same dozen or so words of text.

    The unbelievable bit is that the two snippets aren’t even in the same language. "One may have been in Old Marid and the other in Arabic, but there was no mistaking the similarity in style."

Leave a Reply