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Something strange on the morning commute

Cover of The Haunting of Tram Car 0
A review of The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djeli Clark

Something is very wrong with tram car 015. Unlike the other trams that wiz above Cairo’s bustling streets powered by djinn magic, something in tram car 015 is angry, and it’s up to Agent Hamad Nasr and his new partner Onsi Youssef in The Haunting of Tram Car 015 to discover just what that something is. It’s not the easiest of propositions: in the Cairo of 1912, it’s been decades since the power of djinn has been harnessed and turned Cairo into a world power. Now the cosmopolitan city is teeming with human, supernatural and automaton populations from across the globe—but its wealth belies divisions and inequalities within. As dedicated agents of the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities, Hamad and Onsi have come across haunted entities before, but never anything mechanical like a tram car. After an unsuccessful examination of the car, Hamad and Onsi delve into the underworld of cults and unauthorized magic to discover that what they’re really up against and learn it’s going to take some out-of-the-book thinking to solve.  Add in a city swelled with women rallying for the upcoming vote on female suffrage, and Hamad and Onsi risk unleashing a terrifying spirit that could wreck devastation.

P. Djèli Clark’s magical Cairo, originally introduced in the ebook-only A Dead Djinn in Cairo, is a magical landscape that captures that early twentieth century optimism with the undercurrent of revolution and unrest. The peoples and characters he creates are a richly imagined bunch that even in the briefness of the novella format makes a distinct impression. His main characters Hamad and Onsi can’t be as developed as in a full-length novel, but there are flashes of humor and history especially with Hamad that give them more roundness. Clark has previously published other novellas and short fiction and part of the appeal of his fantasy/steampunk worlds is their grounding in historical, albeit reimagined, eras that create a thought-provoking parallel to our own. Happily for fans of this magical Cairo world, Clark’s debut full-length novel, A Master of Djinn, featuring Special Investigator Fatma el-Sha’arawi, is next. The Haunting of Tram Car 015 is recommended for fans of steampunk, historically-grounded fantasy, and young adult readers. The novella length is also perfect for readers who may not ordinarily be willing to commit to lengthier fantasy.

Nov 16, 2023