Cairo, 1912 or so. There’s a ghost in Tram Car 015, although Senior Agent Hamed is fairly certain it isn’t a ghost. You see, the world has been opened to the land of the djinn since 1860 or so, and it’s more likely that the troublemaker is some kind of lesser djinn. But Inspector and his new sidekick, the enthusiastic and open Agent Onsi will certainly find out. Meanwhile, the women of Egypt are mobilizing, advocating that Parliament give them the right to vote. It makes for a very volatile city.
Short, fun, intriguing. World-building is more complete here than in the first novella, and is integrated well. I felt like I had a rough idea of the djinn and the world politics this time. The issue of voting rights is a bit of a distraction, and is perhaps less well integrated, as it doesn’t really impact the story until much later. Rather, it runs parallel. This can be tricky in a novella, and a few times I feel like it overshadowed the actual story of the haunting. Ultimately, it didn’t significantly bother me, as I found the world interesting and the theme important, but it was worth noting that it was a little off balance.
Narrative is from Special Agent Hamed’s viewpoint who is a bit of an older gent over-focused on his job. Onsi is a fabulous foil for him. The side characters come alive quickly, and there’s even a djinn who gender-morphs (I suspect a nod to differences; I don’t know that it was germane) and an ‘alive’ automaton who raises the issue of slavery. This might sound a bit like it’s catering to Issues without reason, especially in light of my criticisms of A River of Teeth, but Clark does a much, much better job of keeping the story focused. Because it’s a quick aside, it ends up being more world-building than a litany of character Differentness.
Clark is an author who resonates with me. I like the writing style, I like the way his world-building integrates less-seldom heard voices and pays a nod to issues of inequality and exploitation. As I noted in an earlier review, he joins the ranks of male authors who are able to competently write Women as People. This one is perhaps particularly intriguing as the Egyptians seem to have thrown out the British earlier in their history. There’s clearly aspects he’s still working on as he grows his craft in terms of focus, but on the whole, each piece I’ve read has felt more complete than the last. I didn’t have any qualms paying for this novella.