The Haunting of Tram Car 015

By P. Djèlí Clark

Rating: 4 stars

I finished Clark’s A Master of Djinn recently, and, having already read the two short stories in the same universe, turned to this to satisfy my Cairo-based, djinn-filled adventure craving. This novella features agent Hamed of the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities, and his new partner Onsi (who he gets on with, without any grousing, unlike Fatma), as they try to deal with a haunted tram car, and what seems like an easy job turns out to be anything but.

It’s not big or deep, but it’s a lot of fun. Agent Fatma doesn’t show up here, except in a cameo in the epilogue but Hamed and Onsi are great, and complement each other’s strengths well. Siti also shows up, although in a much more passive capacity than we’re used to, but it’s great to see her, and just to spend more time in the world.

This is a djinn-fueled world, where the European powers are losing their colonies because of the return of magic, something which the “scientifically-minded” Europeans reject, and so get their buttocks roundly prodded by the “superstitious natives”. It’s petty of me, but it makes me cackle to read.

I hope Clark writes more stories set in post-al-Jahiz Cairo. They’re an absolute joy to read.

Book details

Publisher: Tordotcom
Year of publication: 2019

A Master of Djinn (Dead Djinn, #1)

By P. Djèlí Clark

Rating: 5 stars

It’s early 20th century Cairo, where magic was released back into the world a generation earlier by the Soudanese inventor and mystic, al-Jahiz, who promptly disappeared. A rich Englishman and his secretive brotherhood are found murdered, and a man claiming to be al-Jahiz is roaming Cairo and claiming responsibility. Agent Fatma es-Sha’arawi works with the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities and is called on to the case.

I’m quite glad I read the first short story set in this world – A Dead Djinn in Cairo – before this. It would probably work fine on its own, but this book does reference the events of that story, and Siti, a core player here, is first introduced to Fatma in the short.

To cut to the chase, I loved this book. Firstly, Cairo feels real and distinctive. I’ve read a few books recently set in “exotic” locations and they never felt distinctive or different. Many of them could be set in Anyville, Genericshire. Whereas Clark makes Cairo come alive and makes me feel that I’m definitely not in London, or New York, which is a big win, in my book.

I loved our protagonist, agent Fatma, as well. The youngest graduate of the academy, who dresses not in Ministry uniform but in sharp Western-style three-piece suits, complete with bowler hat and swordcane. I picture her as a young John Steed, only, you know, female and Arabic. It’s not just Fatma’s dress sense that’s sharp – her wits and her eyes miss little. Here, she’s partnered with rookie agent Hadia, and while we get a bit of the grumpy mentor/rookie stereotype, thankfully that melts away quickly, as Hadia works hard to prove herself. With endless stories stories about endless cousins, and a wit to match Fatma, Hadia is a fun character. And then there’s Siti, Fatma’s lover, and worshipper of Hathor, one of the ancient Egyptian gods. She’s another great character and some of her secrets get revealed during the course of the story.

One of the things I really enjoyed about the book was the emotional maturity of the characters. When secrets come out, there are no shouting matches and nobody storms off. There might be hurt and mistrust, but they don’t just walk away from each other, they stay and work it out. After having read a few YA novels recently with the emotions turned up to eleven, and where people refuse to talk about their feelings, it was refreshing change.

The world of Cairo in the early 20th century, with djinn and other magical creatures is fascinating too. Egypt is a world player now, having overthrown the British, with djinn help, and Cairo rivals Paris and London as world centres. We also get glimpses of what’s happening elsewhere – other native magic traditions are helping colonised peoples around the world to throw off their colonial overlords, and the world is changing.

I can’t wait to read more set in the same world, and look forward to meeting agent Fatma, and her fabulous suits, again soon.

Book details

ISBN: 9780356516882
Publisher: Orbit
Year of publication: 2021

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