Whyyyy did I not know this was set in an alternate universe early 20th century Egypt, where djinn and the supernatural manifest side by side with the rest of society?! I suppose it’s my own fault for not previously familiarizing myself with P Djeli Clark’s work, tho I’m fixing to remedy that with a read of his A Dead Djinn In Cairo shortly. I just assumed The Haunting Of Tram Car 015 was set in America, and I was so pleasantly surprised to be whisked outside of this currently depressing milieu, to enjoy a fantastical tale of ghostly entities and the intrepid agents who keep them from hurting humanity.
THoTC015 follows Senior Agent Hamed al-Nasr of the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities as he shows the freshly minted Agent Onsi the proverbial ropes. They’ve been assigned to investigate a reported haunting of one of the aerial tram cars that crisscross Cairo on a mix of steampunk and magic, while the city itself is in the throes of protests for woman suffrage.
It feels odd boiling the plot down to just that, when it’s such a rich novella, chock full of ideas and details and action that I felt as satisfied as if I’d read an entire novel’s worth of material. My favorite thing about it, if I had to pick just one, was the author’s ability to show how a society contains multitudes. Each named character we encounter in the book has a vivid, unique personality, and I am panting to read more. THoTC015 is just so good, and so much fun, and definitely my current favorite for the Hugo Awards 2020’s Best Novella category.