This novella was a finalist for the 2020 Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards!
“The Haunting of Tram Car 015” takes place in Cairo in 1912, but Clark’s vision of Egypt is vastly different from anything you’ll find in a history book. Magical djinn gained widespread entry into the human world in the late nineteenth century, and with their help Egypt threw off the shackles of the British Empire and became a modern world power. Decades later in the streets of Cairo, djinn now mingle with humans and robotic “boilerplate eunuchs” in relative harmony, and the Egyptian suffragette movement is in full swing.
Our story follows Hamed, an experienced agent in the service of the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities, and his rookie partner, Onsi, as they investigate a haunted tram car that leads them hither and yon across the city.
The strongest aspect of “The Haunting of Tram Car 015” is its world-building. Everything is described in rich, vivid detail by an author who has a clear knowledge and affection for their subject matter. I have never been to Egypt and know very little of north African / Middle Eastern cultures, but I felt utterly welcome in Clark’s prose and completely immersed in the world they had created. I will rave about this world-building until the end of the universe; it’s that good.
Though the two lead characters are men, the women they encounter during their investigation are varied, lively, and fun to read. I especially loved Abla’s nickname for agents from the Ministry.
My only complaint is difficult to relate without spoiling the story, and therefore I must be frustratingly vague and cannot give examples. In some parts of the novella, the world-building was so rich that I feel the story suffered. Several elements were introduced and explored… but not resolved, and that left me frustrated as a reader. If you are familiar with the Chekhov’s Gun principle, there were definitely some points in this novella where I thought, “oh, the way the author is drawing attention to this particular object means it must be important to the plot!” only to discover it was in fact a minor detail.
However, the ending definitely left me wanting more, and I think there’s hope that “The Haunting of Tram Car 015” will turn into a series starring, if not Hamed, then at least other agents of Egypt’s Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities. I am more than ready to return to the wonderful fantasy world P. Djèlí Clark has created.
Read another review of “The Haunting of Tram Car 015” by Amal el-Mohtar
You can read the first chapter of “The Haunting of Tram Car 015” for free on Tor.com