With the upcoming UK publication of P. Djèlí Clark’s novel A MASTER OF DJINN, I thought I ought to read the three novellas/short stories set in the same universe. I have no idea how interconnected they are to each other or the novel, so I’m going to read them in the series order on Goodreads. They are A DEAD DJINN IN CAIRO, THE ANGEL OF KHAN EL-KHALILI, and THE HAUNTING OF TRAM CAR 015 (links are to the Goodreads pages.)
A DEAD DJINN IN CAIRO
The first entry in the series, this is a short story more than a novella, I think, given how short it is. It’s only available as an ebook, it was originally published as a short story on the tordotcom website, which is probably an indicator of short story vs novella. It’s the main one, apparently, that ought to be read ahead of A MASTER OF DJINN as it introduces the main character.
What this short story does is introduce an incredibly rich not exactly steampunk but almost world. 40 years before, a rip was opened and mythical creatures like the Djinn arrived. Now, in 1912, their inventions have made Cairo the centre of a powerful country. A DEAD DJINN IN CAIRO is a whistle-stop tour through the city, where so-called angels roam and ghuls abduct people.
So much happens in such a short space of time, with a mini-mystery at the heart of it as a Djinn turns up dead, and leads Fatima on a mission to find out who killed him and why. There’s a lot of action packed into this for something that’s under 50 pages!
THE ANGEL OF KHAN EL-KHALILI
The next entry doesn’t even have an ebook form, just the tordotcom listing (find it here) and is even shorter – definitely a short story!
THE ANGEL OF KHAN EL-KHALILI is very different from A DEAD DJINN IN CAIRO. No investigation, and its set in one location. A girl is seeking out an angel to perform the miracle of healing her sister. The tone is very different, a snapshot of desperation and daily life of the working class, much more intimate than the mystery of the previous.
It’s written in 2nd person, which is not my favourite, but it wasn’t as jarring here as I usually find it. I don’t like the imperative style of 2nd, because I’m not feeling/doing what the character’s doing, so I experience a big disconnect. However, this one managed to have the feel of 3rd person, that it was trying tell me what to do.
THE HAUNTING OF TRAM CAR 015
Unlike the others, this entry is certainly a novella, and has a physical printing (with a lovely-to-feel matte cover). I heard a fair few things about this when it came out, and was the entry I was most excited to read.
This novella was simply stunning. It’s a mystery woven with folklore about a tram car that runs on wires above the city getting possessed. An investigator and his new partner are sent to deal with the situation and end up enlisting the help of members of the women’s suffrage movement.
The creature possessing the car is one I’d never heard of, but is so creepy and widespread. I really liked the discussion of how the creature might have come about/been defined, as it’s such a good point. Who determines the form and motivation of folklore creatures and why?
The descriptions are also so vivid and gorgeous. It’s a novella, so by definition it’s short, but it still has such well imagined settings, and the way they’re described helps build the setting too. The opening is a description, mixing the old world we expect at the turn of the century with the fantasy elements of this alt-world. The colours and vastness of the world really stand out in the writing too. The story sits in a world that extends well beyond these small glimpses of Cairo we see, all meshed together and feeling like there are an ocean of stories out there set in it.
Reading these has made me more excited for the first full-length novel entry to the series, A MASTER OF DJINN, so I will probably bump the ARC up my TBR even though I don’t need to post about it until mid-August.