Wednesday, May 4, 2022

The Haunting of Tram Car 015

P. Djeli Clark
Completed 5/1/2022, Reviewed 5/1/2022
4 stars

Another terrific story by Clark.  This novella takes place in the same alternate steampunk Cairo of 1912.  In this magic filled Cairo, the suffrage movement is in full swing.  Djinn, angels, and ghouls still abound.  This time, a tram car is haunted and two paranormal detectives are called to investigate.  While Fatma, the detective from A Dead Djinn in Cairo, is only lightly in this one, the two main detectives carry the story well.  This novella was nominated for multiple novella awards as well as the 2020 Mythopoeic Award.  

Hamed is a hardened, experienced detective for the Ministry of

Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities.  He is assigned a case involving a tram car that has a supernatural entity in it.  The entity may or may not be a djinn.  It had been scaring passengers, but the tram was finally taken offline when it attacked a woman.  Hamed is assigned a partner, Onsi, who is fresh out of the academy.  Together they try to determine what kind of entity is doing the haunting and exorcise it while navigating suffragettes, underground religions, and sentient automatons.  

Once again, the characterization is superb.  I found all the characters believable and their dialogue natural.  The story is told from Hamed’s perspective, third person.  He is about as interesting as Fatma from Dead Djinn, but without the quirkiness.  I liked him from the onset, as I did Onsi the newbie.  

The star of this book, though is the world-building.  While we were introduced to it in Dead Djinn, this story takes it in a new direction.  Hamed is sure the haunting is not a ghost or even a djinn.  What it turns out to be is complex and interesting.  The interactions with the suffragettes initially may seem kind of forced into the story, but it crosses paths with the plot later on.  I also liked the delving a little into the underground religions, with the charms and sigils and chanting.  While this story is still short for a novella, it deftly packs a lot into it without feeling like your getting skimped in any one area.

The prose is wonderful.  It has the same manner and style as its predecessor.  It never feels flowery or overbearing.  It delivers just the right amount of description of people and their thoughts, places, and actions.  The reading is smooth, and I’m curious to see how Clark can keep it going in the next installment in the series, a full length novel.  

I give this book four stars out of five.  It’s original, well-written, and wildly entertaining.  I did feel like I could guess how Hamed and Onsi were going to go after the haunter, but it didn’t really matter.  The story was engaging and fun.  I look forward to the next book, which I hope will have the same momentum as these two.

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