“Quite dreadful. No one liked desk duty. It often seemed half their job was paperwork as it was. Who joined the Ministry for the thrill of filling out endless reports, in triplicate no less? Then again, he thought dismally, neither did they expect to spend their days haggling with government bureaucrats over haunted tram cars.”
- 144 pages
- Published February 19th 2019 by Tor.com
- Original Title The Haunting of Tram Car 015
- ISBN 1250294800(ISBN13: 9781250294807)
- Edition Language English
“The Haunting of Tram Car 015 returns to the alternate Cairo of Clark’s short fiction, where humans live and work alongside otherworldly” beings; the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities handles the issues that can arise between the magical and the mundane. Senior Agent Hamed al-Nasr shows his new partner Agent Onsi the ropes of investigation when they are called to subdue a dangerous, possessed tram car. What starts off as a simple matter of exorcism, however, becomes more complicated as the origins of the demon inside are revealed.
I am on my second P. Djèlí Clark novella, and all I can say is that I want to read everything I can get my hands on written by this guy.
This story takes place in an alternative history of Egypt after the Britsh rule was overthrown in 1879. Now, the year is 1912. Cairo is written as a mix of history, culture, steampunk, and magic. Djinns walk the world freely, ghosts haunt, and magic makes the world flow. This story stars a collection of characters, namely agents Hamed Nasr and Onsi Youssef. They represent the interests of the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities. They get called in to investigate a tram car, part of the transportation system in Cairo, that seems to be haunted.
Nothing is as it seems, but they are tasked to fix the situation as speedily as possible.
One of the best parts of Clark’s writing is the texture and beauty of his descriptions. He builds a fluid, and magical world that is on one hand, believable and on the other completely stretches the imagination. The story is fascinating in its own right, but the backstory and current of political tensions that flow behind the main characters are well done. Political upheaval is everywhere in the form of women’s suffrage. Women are close to getting the right to vote, and that plays a massive part in how characters behave and relate to other characters in the story. The political climate is a live wire snapping and sparking.
Hamad, the lead investigator for the story, is a steampunk world-weary sam spade type character. He has seen a lot, experienced a lot, and has developed a certain pragmatism towards cases. At the same time as issues pop up he pragmatically handles them, he is also funny and adds a bit of mischievousness to the story. I enjoyed reading his interactions with various people and entities.
Clark writes a fascinating story, one that doesn’t fall short. There are no coy or trumped up false moments. This is just fantastic storytelling, and I hope that he writes a full-length novel so I can read how he develops a story beyond a novella. He has a knack for creation and worldbuilding. I recommend it wholeheartedly.
“I didn’t know trams could be haunted,” Onsi murmured, plopping another sudjukh in his mouth.” “Wait, your tram is haunted?”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
P. Djèlí Clark likes creating fantastic, dangerous, and exciting worlds. Usually with heroines & heroes. Almost always with magic & monsters. His short fiction has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, Lightspeed, Tor.com and in print anthologies including Griots, Steamfunk, Myriad Lands and Hidden Youth.