‘His skin was a sheath of aquamarine scales that shifted to turquoise beneath the glare of flickering gas lamps.’
It was the title of P. Djeli Clark’s 2019 novella The Haunting of Tram Car 015 that caught my attention. I’d seen it recommended on Amazon when I was browsing for a new book. It had also appeared on the Locus 2019 Recommended Reading List; a list I always look forward to every year. Before buying a copy, I discovered A Dead Djinn in Cairo was a short story published in 2016 that was set in the same universe. So I quickly purchased it and read it through in one sitting–it’s only just over 40 pages long.
Main character Fatma el-Sha’arawi is a special investigator with ‘the Egyptian Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities.’ She takes on the case of a dead Djinn in an alternate 1910s Cairo where otherworldly beings exist alongside the human population. Her investigations lead Fatma on a perilous journey as she becomes embroiled in a plot that could lead to the razing of the city, if not the whole country.
A Dead Djinn in Cairo is a very entertaining and imaginative story. I recommend it to everyone. The world-building is first rate, as Clark carefully paints a rich and vibrant picture of a steampunk Cairo filled with mechanical wonders.
‘Fatma pulled off the copper-plated goggles and handed them over to a waiting boilerplate eunuch. The machine-man grasped the instrument between tactile metal fingers, folding it away with mechanical precision into a leather casing.’
As Fatma gets deeper into the investigation, she encounters a couple of supernatural beings called ‘Angels’. Clark’s descriptions of one of the Angels appearance was fascinating:
‘A translucent alabaster mask hid his face, with lips fixed into a permanent faint smirk–meant, perhaps, to put others at ease. Brilliance poured from behind oval openings that stood as eyes, as if holding back a star.’
This is brilliant writing, and just one example of what treasure lies in wait for the reader.
As I often write in these reviews, I really don’t want to reveal too much of the story so I will close now. My only complaint is that I didn’t want the story to end. I got completely drawn into the world and its characters. For me it was something different that was just what I needed to get me excited about reading again. I will be checking out P. Djeli Clark’s other works very soon.
Thanks for reading.