Clark does it again! I loved The Black God’s Drums by P. Djeli Clark, and his worldbuilding in this novella does not disappoint.
He creates an alternative Cairo circa 1912. Here is a story he wrote couple years ago that takes place in that same world: A Dead Djinn in Cairo. But don’t worry; I did not read that story and I don’t think you need to to understand the action in this one.
It is a world that was forever changed when a number of years ago a man found a doorway to a parallel world filled with djinn. This helps and hinders the advancement of the nation. In many ways it has progressed Northern Africa beyond that of Europe. Djinns, depending on sentient ability, are a vital part of the culture and people study their roles and history in university. They even contribute to the infrastructure; one way is in the development and control of the vast tram system that takes people around the city center.
Everything seems to be running smoothly until some sort of deamon is found in a tram car. It has scared and even attacked passengers… Enter veteran Hamed Nasr and his newly assigned partner Onsi from the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities. As they start to pick away the layers of the haunting, Hamed reveals himself as a master of deduction, and Onsi can be on one hand a little of a know-it-all, and on the other hand, a creative investigator. They get help from some very colorful characters, and may find a way to solve the mystery.
In fewer than 150 pages, Clark details a city with the sounds, the food, the folklore, and even a classic bureaucracy. The short novella is filled with well-placed items and characters that you know will reappear and be significant later. I loved being transported into another time and place. One of Clark’s masterful invention.