Hugo/Nebula Finalist: The Haunting of Tram Car 015 • 2019 • Urban Fantasy novella by P. Djèlí Clark



Synopsis: Djinns helped Egypt to throw the British out of their country, and some 30 years later, Cairo is a beacon of modernity shining out Paris and London in a mixture of djinn driven steampunk – I’d coin that “djinnpunk“: djinns enchanted trams to drive intelligently through the city, robots called “boilerplate eunuchs” work for their masters. It is just the time that the suffragette women push for the decision that would let them vote.

In this setting, agents Hamed and his assistant agent Onsi investigate abuses of the magical kind. They were called to aid by the Superintendent of Tram Safety and Maintenance because the eponymous tram car is haunted.

Soon, they find themselves in a tangle of Nairobian sheika with supersexy non-binary djinns, sentient robots discussing human rights, the whole suffragette movement, and a lot of spicy food.

Review: Some ten years ago, I’ve been on vacation to Egypt, and I already feel back home. I’m a sucker for djinnpunk, e.g. with Saladin Ahmed’s Throne of the Crescent Moon or Ted Chiang’s The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate. The Arabic flourishes, exotic food, good-minded haggling, baksheesh everywhere flow together to a vivid image of a modern Cairo turned Belle Epoque.

And those women – intelligent, hard fighting for their rights, ranting, business-style woman were a joy to read. I guess, this is one of the most positive connotated feministic stories without a female protagonist. The suffragette movement defined a kind of struts for the background, and the author did his research well and transported it adequately from England to this new environment.

Not only the women were interesting, but also the two main protagonists are compelling, and even funny with their combination of old-fashioned practitioner and modern theoretician. Not everything is action, here, the fine details of boring paperwork and budgets bring humor and life to the story.

The delightful narration built up a fast-paced and well-defined tension arc, found plot twists, and finished with a satisfying showdown. I absolutely need to read the other short work in this universe, A Dead Djinn in Cairo and hype his expected full novel in 2021.

Read this!

Meta: isfdb. I’ve read it as part of the Hugo and Nebula Award finalists.

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