Last year I was lucky enough to get The Haunting of Tram Car 015 through Tor’s Ebook Club. I had seen mention of P. Djeli Clark before but had not been paying much attention to it. I was so very wrong. The Dead Djinn Universe, as the series now is called, has unique and well written stories. Enough to draw you in right away.
A Master of Djinn was released yesterday, May 11th, and it is the first full novel in the universe. To honor this I thought it would be a good thing to look at some of the prequel stories that have been released and why you should be picking them up. Novella length but so very worth a read.
There are three prequel novella’s that are set before A Master of Djinn. A Dead Djinn in Cairo, The Angel of Khan el-Khalilli and The Haunting of Tram Car 015.
The Dead Djinn Universe is set in an alternate Cairo in Egypt. Some 40 years ago the scientist Al-Jahiz created machines that called back magic to our world. Djinn and Angels came to our world. Now, in 1912, magic and otherworldly run through Cairo as if it had never left. The Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities investigate all disturbances to do with this.
I love this kind of setting. I was so happy to see something like this happening in a place that was not the USA or London. Egypt and Cairo has so much to offer as a setting without even magic attached to it. Stepping back some 100 years ago also adds an extra element. Add in magic and it completely takes you by surprise.
The setting of an ministry that investigates is also an interesting choice. Of course the government had to deal with the sudden addition of otherworldly creatures to our world. But following investigators constricted by the laws of the government is still an interesting choice to make. The only story that differs from that is The Angel of Khan el-Khalilli where a young girl seeks out an angel.
Feminist Feelings Throughout
One thing that struck me right out about A Dead Djinn in Cairo and The Angel of Khan el-Khalilli are the female main characters who stick out above the crowd in their own way. In 1912 that is still quite unique. Knowing how sometimes we still have to fight in modern times for our place, you can only imagine what that would have been like in that time period.
Fatma el-Sha’arawi in A Dead Djinn in Cairo stands out as a sore thumb to the man around her. As a female invesitagor at the ministry she also dresses in what they see as a man’s suit. It is a choice she’s made. She’s always had to be more than better than the man around her to get where she is now. Having a quirky suit just helps with that.
Where as our female main character of The Angel of Khan el-Khalilli is not nessecarily one that stands out because of who she is but because of her actions. Helping out a co-worker to get the bosses to listen. Thinking how girls don’t dream of men or beauty but that working girls dream of having enough money to attend university or having the skills for a civil engineering job. Much more subte. But it gives words to the secret longings that women have.
But outside of all of that, what stands out to me in these novella’s is the writing of P. Djeli Clark. There are only a few who can write an alternate historical story set in Cairo that is still so easily to settle into writing. Yet he does not sell short on what Cairo was like in that time or of the culture. But his way of writing draws you in. He doesn’t oversimplify things. But he doesn’t overcomplicate any of it either.
And he writes the characters with emotion and layers. I’m not a fan of the second person point of view but he writes it masterly in The Angel of Khan el-Khalilli.