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

Russ Allbery eagle at
Sat Jul 2 21:52:04 PDT 2022

The Haunting of Tram Car 015
by P. Djèlí Clark

Publisher: Tordotcom
Copyright: February 2019
ASIN:      B07H796G2Z
Format:    Kindle
Pages:     65

The Haunting of Tram Car 015 is a novella and the second story in the
Dead Djinn universe, after "A Dead Djinn in Cairo". While there are a
few references to the previous story, it's not a direct sequel and has
different main characters. Order of reading is not important.

Agents Hamed and Onsi of the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and
Supernatural Entities have been called by the Superintendent of Tram
Safety & Maintenance at Ramses Station because one of the tram cars is
haunted. The aerial tram system of Cairo (technically a telpher system
since the cars move independently) is one of the modern wonders of the
1912 city after al-Jahiz breached the boundaries between universes and
allowed djinn to return to the world. The trams are elaborate magical
clockwork machines created by djinn to travel their routes, but tram
car 015 had to be taken out of service after a magical disturbance.
Some supernatural creature has set up residence in its machinery and
has been attacking passengers.

Like "A Dead Djinn in Cairo," this is a straightforward police
procedural in an alternate history with magic and steampunk elements.
There isn't much in the way of mystery, and little about the plot will
come as a surprise. The agents show up, study the problem, do a bit of
research, and then solve the problem with some help. Unlike the
previous story, though, it does a far better job at setting.

My main complaint about Clark's first story in this universe was that
it had a lot of infodumps and not much atmosphere. The Haunting of Tram
Car 015 is more evocative, starting with the overheated, windowless
office of the superintendent and its rattling fan and continuing with a
glimpse of the city's aerial tram network spreading out from the
dirigible mooring masts of Ramses Station. While the agents puzzle
through identifying the unwanted tram occupant, they have to deal with
bureaucratic funding fights and the expense of djinn specialists. In
the background, the women of Cairo are agitating for the vote, and
Islam, Coptic Christianity, and earlier Egyptian religions mingle

The story layered on top of this background is adequate but not great.
It's typical urban fantasy fare built on random bits of obscure magical
trivia, and feels akin to the opening problem in a typical urban
fantasy novel (albeit with a refreshingly non-European magical system).
It also features an irritatingly cliched bit of costuming at the
conclusion. But you wouldn't read this for the story; you read it to
savor the world background, and I thought that was successful.

This is not a stand-out novella for me and I wouldn't have nominated it
for the various awards it contended for, but it's also not my culture
and by other online accounts it represents the culture well. The world
background was interesting enough that I'd might have kept reading even
if the follow-on novel had not won a Nebula award.

Followed by the novel A Master of Djinn, although the continuity link
is not strong.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Reviewed: 2022-07-02


Russ Allbery (eagle at             <>

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