Friday, March 1, 2019

The Haunting of Tram Car 015, by P. Djèlí Clark

★★★★☆ Strong Characters in a Cool Setting with Lots of Action

(Steampunk Fantasy Mystery; A Dead Djinn in Cairo Universe) Handling a routine haunting is a bit mundane for an agent of the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities, but no one ever heard of a haunted tram car before. (28,339 words; Time: 1h:34m)

Although this is set in the same universe as "A Dead Djinn in Cairo," there's no overlap, and the stories can be read and enjoyed in either order.

"," by (edited by Diana Pho), published on by .

Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Review: 2019.137 (A Word for Authors)

Pro: The story has several charms, starting with the setting. The bustling, prosperous, magical Cairo of 1912 really comes to life in this tale, with its rich foods, smells, and, of course, entertaining people.

Hamed doesn’t hold a lot of surprises; he’s a standard-issue police type, but he’s honest, hard-working, and has his priorities straight.

Agent Onsi provides non-stop comic relief. My favorite was his initial speech to the Al, the one starting with “Good Morning, unknown being,” where he tells it it’s violating the law and needs to depart the tram or else be arrested. And yet his various enthusiasms make him easy to like, and he does earn his place at Hamed’s side.

The plot has plenty of action and plenty of tension, and the ending is very satisfying.

Con: The story verges on slipstream, which is fine, but it’s not really a humor piece, and I think that deprives the story of any emotional content.

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P. Djèlí Clark Info: Interviews, Websites, ISFDB, FreeSFOnline

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5 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. 5-stars for me. I really liked this one. It is an easy read, and the light touches of humour make it an easy read, but the ease of reading does not diminish the story or the quality of the writing and plot in any way. It is a very good story.

    I loved the setting. The magic and the steampunk has enabled Cairo to modernize and be socially progressive, making it peers with the likes of London and Paris. I also like the ethnic and religious diversity that is in this story.

    There are also at least 4 supporting very well-written women characters in the story. Overall a very well thought-out alternate history setting with steampunk.

    1. It's possible I'm being too picky, but I want a 5-star story to move me somehow, and while I liked the characters, none of them touched my heartstrings.

      I notice I didn't give out a lot of 5-star reviews in 2019, so it's possible I need to rethink the criteria.

    2. Like you, I do expect a short story or novelette to deliver an emotional impact at the end, for it to be considered high-rated.

      With novellas I tend to read these more like novels, but not quite. I noticed you did not give out many 5-star reviews for 2019 releases.

      I think what stood out for me was the well-thought out originality of the whole thing, but especially the setting or world-building. Few authors do steampunk outside of the British Empire.

  2. New author website: