The Haunting of Tram Car 015 returns to the alternate Cairo of Clark’s short fiction, where humans live and work alongside otherworldly beings; the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities handles the issues that can arise between the magical and the mundane. Senior Agent Hamed al-Nasr shows his new partner Agent Onsi the ropes of investigation when they are called to subdue a dangerous, possessed tram car. What starts off as a simple matter of exorcism, however, becomes more complicated as the origins of the demon inside are revealed.
Title: The Haunting of Tram Car 015 | Author: P. Djèlí Clark | Publisher: Tor.com | Pub. Date: February 19, 2019 | Pages: 146 | ASIN: B07H796G2Z | Genre: Fantasy Horror | Language: English | Source: Purchased | Starred Review
The Haunting of Tram Car 015 Review
This work was nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards, so I am probably late to the party reviewing it now. I’ve marked it as Horror because it is based on a haunting, though as explained in the story no ghosts are involved. There is not much that is frighteningly horror-filled in the novella, outside of a few well-described images, but it’s a cracking good story so I won’t get too caught up in categorization.
This is the second of three pieces in a series, though really only shares the fantastical world with the other two. The main character from books 1 and 3 is briefly mentioned before making an appearance in the Epilogue. The world is Cairo Egypt in the early part of the 20’th century, where a portal between our world and that of the Djinn had been opened roughly 40 years earlier. Djinn had existed in our world to a small degree as in mythology, though this portal allows many more to stream through. Magic becomes common place, Egypt becomes the dominant power in the world, and a sort of steam-punk environment springs up almost over night.
The prose is excellent, which is what I first noted. Scene descriptions are spot on without going overboard. I had no trouble imagining the office where the work kicks off, and much of the action subsequently takes place. Similarly I can see the Tram Car clearly in my minds eye.
The characters are rich and brought to life. This is particularly true for the two government Agents who are the center of the story, but each of the other characters is well fleshed out. In particular I can imagine that the author may want to make further use of the Waitress. Though he may want to just leave us wondering what her full story was.
The plot is tight and fast paced, with good breaks for dialog and reflective scenes between the action against facing the Haunting. Finally, there is a great effort to incorporate political issues of the time, and still relevant to our time today. Women’s rights, colonialism, trans rights, slavery, and the question of what defines personhood are addressed though not in any sort of heavy handed manner.
Bravo Mr. Clark. Highly recommended.
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