P. Djèlí Clark’s A Dead Djinn in Cairo is an alternate-history fantasy novella. It shares its setting with The Haunting of Tram Car 015.
Forty years ago, al-Jahiz opened the world to magic. Bad news for the Ottomans, the British, and the French, whose domination of Egypt came to an abrupt halt. Good news for Egypt, independent once more. But magic and magical beings bring problems of their own. Fatma el-Sha’arawi, special investigator with the Egyptian Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities, spends her days dealing with them.
For example, the matter of the dead and bloodless djinn.
Cairo has an ongoing ghul problem, but the dead djinn does not seem to be a ghul victim. Ghul favor dismemberment and consumption; they don’t leave behind bloodless but otherwise intact corpses.
Fatma examines and finds that the djinn’s blood appears to have been removed magically, at the djinn’s own behest. But why would a potentially immortal being kill itself?
The suicide could be a one-off. Of course, it isn’t. Fatma begins unravelling the mystery by focusing on an odd, incongruous detail: the presence in the djinn’s home of a single angel feather. The feather leads Fatma to the angel calling itself Maker. The trail stops there, as Maker dies, its earthly shell savaged by ghuls.
The universe as Fatma knows it will be doomed unless she can unravel the mystery. And the clock is ticking. Tick-tock.
This is the first of Clark’s Cairo works. It is presumably intended to function as an introduction to the setting1. It works as such — though I should note that one can read the existing works in either order without any problems.
I’ve just noticed Clark does not have a collection out yet. Bother. I’d also be happy to read a full length novel about Fatma. Still, this short novella satisfies: it has a vivid setting, a plot, and intriguing characters. It’s more than an appetizer. It’s a full meal.
- Of course, readers won’t be so worried about the threatened end of world if they know that this is the first work in a series.