Egypt, 1912. In an alternate Cairo infused with the otherworldly, the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities investigate disturbances between the mortal and the (possibly) divine. What starts off as an odd suicide case for Special Investigator Fatma el-Sha’arawi leads her through the city’s underbelly as she encounters rampaging ghouls, saucy assassins, clockwork angels, and plot that could unravel time itself.
If you know me, then you know there is nothing I love more when reading than diving into another cultures mythology, which A Dead Djinn in Cairo has in spades! The story follows Agent Fatma el-Sha’arawi from the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities as she investigates the death of a Djinn. Her journey takes her across steampunk Cairo and into it’s underbelly dealing with Angels, hungry ghuls and flirty assassins. Only the case is a lot stranger than it seems, and could have repercussions that could unravel time itself.
The story is incredibly short, and coming in at under 50 pages the author shouldn’t have been able to give us a full case, world building and introduce us to multiple characters… yet he does. We get a brief history of Cairo, how it became so advanced as well as how the ‘magical’ beings that live there came to be. But the real selling point of this Novella was Fatma herself Being a woman itself is a weird thing for a Ministry official but Fatma comes across even stranger thanks to her unique dress style and no nonsense attitude. She has a dry wit, one that sometimes comes across a little too serious, but she is a fantastic POV to read from.
“When I was in school in Luxor I would see these photographs of Englishmen and Frenchmen who visited Egypt, before the djinn came. Mostly they were in suits. But sometimes they’d put on a jellabiya and headscarf. I found out they called it ‘going native.’ To look exotic, they said…’
‘Anyway, when I bought my first suit, the English tailor asked me why I wanted it. I told him I wanted to look exotic.”
I finished this and instantly downloaded the second Novella, being unable to wait to return to this world, and now I’m so incredibly excited to know we are getting a full length novel focused around Fatma and her Ministry investigations!
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.
As I said above, I started this almost instantly after finishing the previous Novella and was slightly disappointed to find that Fatma was not the main character in this, in fact she is in it only very briefly at the end. However, we get introduced to two new characters that it didn’t take me very long to fall in love with. The Haunting of Tram Car 015 follows the story of Agents Hamed and Onsi as they, well… investigate the haunting of tram car 015. What they think is a simply djinn possession turns into something much more powerful and a whole lot rarer than they anticipated. After they learn exactly what is possessing the tram they have to decide the levels they are willing to go to exorcise it.
Agent Hamed isn’t too eager to get lumped with Agent Onsi, fresh from the academy. He is slightly jealous of Agent Fatma, he has absolutely nothing against her being a woman, just wishes he could get his face in the paper as much as she does, maybe catch a more interesting case once in a whole. A wish he may regret before this case is over. Agent Onsi’s enthusiasm and willingness to try literally anything makes him invaluable for this case. This books main characters may both be men, but we still get introduced to a whole host of interesting and strong female side characters, as well as having the book being set in the time of the Suffragette movement. These characters introduce us to new cultures and magic styles that add a new depth to the novella, making it seem a much more detailed full book than novella.
This novella is slightly longer than the first coming in at just over 100 pages, but this gives the author more time to introduce us to the intricacies of his steam punk Cairo, as well as tell us how the events that created this advanced city have also affected the world around it. Around 40 years ago al-Jahiz through magic and machines ripped a hole in the world to another realm, one filled with djinn and other mythical creatures, granting them entry back into our world and filling it with magic. But the djinn didn’t just bring magic, they also brought their penchant for building and machinery, leading to the steam punk style world our character now inherit. We get introduced to multiple types of djinn from Marid to Ifrit, as well as some of the other creatures that now inherit the earth alongside mortals.
This is another Novella with such scope that it almost reads like a full novel. You don’t feel like you’ve been short changed, with the wide breath of world building and the impressive character development you get all the best bits of a novel in much smaller package. The second novella has left me even more excited to read the full novel, and I can’t wait to return to this magical world.