Tuesday, October 20, 2020

THE HAUNTING OF TRAM CAR 015, a delightful if short hit of an alternate steampunk Cairo...with Djinn!

(Dead Djinn Universe #0.7)
Tor.com Publishing
$3.99 ebook editions, available now

Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: 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.


My Review
: When I asked for more after reading A Dead Djinn in Cairo, I sorta-kinda vaguely hoped that there would, one day, maybe be more. Then this book came out. It doesn't feature Fatma as the main Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities agent on the case, but Hamed and Onsi grew on me fast. And, of course, the inclusion of Siti was welcome as it assured me this was well and truly part of a Cairo I absolutely believe is real and wish to emigrate to now, please.


And now there's a lovely new title, A Master of Djinn, coming on 11 May 2021! In fact, we'll get Fatma and Siti back at the center of the doings, so all will be extra-special right with my reading world.

This story, of a spirit entity (NOT like a Djinn, as Zagros the Ministry's librarian Djinn bristles at Hamed) called an "al" (plural "alk") that's arrived from Armenia to ply its evil, baby-stealing ways; it involves graft (a Transportation ministry bureaucrat doing what he didn't oughta), confusion (Hamed seeking help from a sheika and a sexy transgender Djinn to perform a Zal exorcism-y thing), and a lot of humility instead of humiliation. Hamed and Onsi do a deeply shocking thing to slip past the al's nervous vigilance, something their patriarchal upbringings wouldn't find agreeable, but to them it's far superior a choice than failing to protect Cairo's mothers.

There are scenes of action with the men pursuing the al, there are scenes of fun, deep brain-work where the author gets to infodump you about this delicious anti-colonial alternate history without feeling like it's him forcing you to eat your spinach, and there's a beautifully queer undertone to the proceedings that agrees with me. If you know it won't agree with you, skip on.

Now, it's clear that I love this world. Anyone who has read my deep and caustic growls about majgickq in my alt-hist will even now be sharpening their quill to jab out a "GOTCHA!!" message. This series has majgicqk in it, yes; the magjicqk is integral to the action, yes; and no, I am not fleeing at top speed. So before the ringing cries of "hypocrite!" begin their rise from ill-mannered and poorly bred peoples' keyboards, listen up: I'm not interested in medieval-Europe-with-monsters, WWII-with-werewolves/aliens, or their like. Tired of those stories. Cultures not European? You interest me strangely, Tale-spinner, come and say on.

I wouldn't say you should read this book first, but definitely before the new one comes out. And definitely read it. I know it's a quick hit, and it's hard to invest in something this concentrated when you wonder if you can come home again. Now you know you can, indulge! (But be alert for the one, and only one, w-bomb.)

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