Diversity, Fiction, Loved-it, Other-cultures, Short stories, Society, Steampunk

Short Fiction Gets Short Review – Turn of the Century Magic In A Diverse Setting The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djèlí Clark, ★★★★✬ 4.5 stars

I was absolutely not lured into requesting a copy of The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djèlí Clark because of pure #coverlove. Lies and slander. What are you even talking about. ……… Well alright. Maybe there was a little bit of that. A teensy bit. But that’s not all there is to this book! There’s a lot that’s wonderful, like the setting, the diversity and the magic. And YES, of course, the cover too. Now I can only ask… May we hope for a sequel..?

The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djèlí Clark

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★★★★✬ 4.5 stars

An alternate reality, the beginning of the 20th century. Cairo is the center of world culture and technology, magic and the arcane arts are now widespread, so much so that even the conservatives at Harvard and Oxford and finally attempting to include it into the curriculum, and humans are living and working alongside otherworldly creatures on a daily basis. The world is a marvel, but it’s not without problems, and that’s why Agent Hamed and Agent Onsi have their jobs with the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities. And who better to choose to work on a case of a mysteriously haunted self-driving tram car?

An Incredibly Rich And Imaginative Steampunk Setting

A GIF of a black cat with white paws, white whiskers, a monocle, a top hat and a smoking pipe, proudly walking through grass

I personally really enjoy alternate timeline settings for the beginning of the 20th century. And I would imagine I’m probably not the only one! The Haunting of Tram Car 015 is set in an alternate universe, where the discovery of certain alchemical / magical knowledge has allowed Cairo to become a leading hub of the world. Its such an interesting world – a non-Western leading culture, one so rich in history. And yet, all the gleam of the turn of the century knickknacks! The Haunting of Tram Car 015 combines magic and science in such a cool way though – if you’ve ever wanted to see automatons, driven by magic – well, here you are. I have only ever seen this concept explored in the Industrial Magic series, and I have been a sucker for it since! That’s the coolest combo of science and magic that can ever be written for a story, for me. But back to the setting – not only are we talking magical automatons – were talking regular turn of the century things, like the women fighting for their right to vote – only in this incredible setting as well. I really enjoyed picturing this world!

The Haunting of Tram Car 015 combines magic and science in such a cool way – if you've ever wanted to see automatons driven by magic, here you are. Click To Tweet

And Then There Are The Djinn

A GIF of a 3D model of a glowing substance moving like smoke in darkness

Yes, the djinn – well, somebody has to make all those automatons tick, right? The djinn are what we used to call genies in fairytales – magical beings who used to also grant wishes, but they’re so much more than that, as they are in the mythology of the Middle East. Some of them have coexisted with humans for ages, some are newcomers through the portals of recent discovery – the author allows us glimpses into their history in this world. Anyway, HOW COOL IS THAT? Not only are they real – they live among the people. So it’s not just different races of humans we’re talking about in The Haunting of Tram Car 015 – it’s different races apart from humans altogether. With jobs and lives, and rights, societies. I bet you didn’t expect that level of diversity in this book, now did you? (Actually, there’s more than that. There are sentient automatons, but I’ll let you learn more about that for yourselves when you read the book.)

Men’s Ways and Women’s Ways

An animated GIF of a diverse group of women standing up together

In a way, The Haunting of Tramcar 015 is about how the men’s world disregards the women’s world – all the wisdom is called superstition, everything’s a wife’s tale and a waste of time. They need a man to reveal something the women have been using for ages and present it as a new thing, as their thing, to even be considered as a way to do something. So the characters of this book are shown that the man’s way is not the only way. It’s often not even the smart way, or the peaceful way, or the graceful way. All of these ways could open themselves up if they would just listen. Ring any bells?


I really enjoyed The Haunting of Tram Car 015! It was a quick evening’s read that was very rich in setting, diversity and had a good plot. I can’t wait to find out if there will be sequels, or at least other books set in this amazing world!

I thank Tor.com Publishing for sending me a finished print copy for review. This has not affected my honest opinion.


Triggers include mention of animals harmed, violence from a ghost, attacking pregnant women, ghosts and paranormal creatures, spooky fairytales to do with miscarriage and childbirth.

Have you read anything by P. Djèlí Clark? Do you enjoy steampunk alternate reality settings? Have you read any books where the West is not the leading region in terms of advancement and technology in the world?