Steampunk, non-Victorian edition: In 1912, Egypt is a rising world power due to its access to magic. Holding its own against the British and other world powers in a multicultural metropolis, Cairo is far from free and perfect, though: Our protagonist, Fatma, is one of the few women in the Ministry of supernatural stuff, where she works as an investigator, and gets to unravel the bloodless-but-supernatural murder of some British guys.
The worldbuilding was great: in-depth, loving, mostly alive. Social unrest and gods coming alive were equally plausible and good to read. The backdrop is gorgeous: air trams, dresses in a mix of Egyptian and Parisian styles, boilerplate eunuchs, lovely one-liner remarks about diverging history and the state of surrounding countries, djinn architects. Magic has returned all over the world, and we get glimpses of it: Persecution in the USA, goblins in Germany (one of the few European countries embracing its magic). Add in some very neat illustrations how magic can mess with people – making them unstable, letting them forget certain facts, making them dependent … yes, I really liked the worldbuilding.
The characters are at least good: Fatma has a ton of issues, not least of which her on-again-off-again affair with a woman whose positions on religion and the new gods are very different from her own. There are plenty of odd characters to go around, including some nice underground queerness.
The plot was much less interesting than the worldbuilding, and I couldn’t really be bothered with it. I was way more interested in seeing how everything worked than to hear what some angels were up to. Neither the plot itself nor Fatma made the investigation compelling, to the point that I had forgotten half of it when I wrote this review three months later. Some of that is down to the writing that in places is clumsy and cumbersome.
A nice read, but nothing I’ll continue with unless I’m in need of mind candy.