It’s back! The blog advent calendar. I enjoyed last year’s blog theme last year—re-reading twenty-four books of my youth—so much, so this year I’m applying the same approach to short stories, trawling through a myriad bunch of collections and anthologies I’ve read in the last few years.
December 16th: A Dead Djinn In Cairo by P. Djèlí Clark
Tell me about your first time: My favourite short story of the year because, honestly, how can you not love it? It’s got everything: steampunk Egypt, angels, djinns, ghuls, necromancers, female detectives… it’s just so. damn. awesome.
Sum it up: Egypt, 1912. In an alternate Cairo infused with the otherworldly, the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities investigate disturbances between the mortal and the (possibly) divine. What starts off as an odd suicide case for Special Investigator Fatma el-Sha’arawi leads her through the city’s underbelly as she encounters rampaging ghouls, saucy assassins, clockwork angels, and a plot that could unravel time itself.
Give me a quote: “Unlike djinn, [the angels’] bodies were almost ephemeral, like light become flesh, and required frames to house them. This one towered at least twelve feet, his body a complex construction of iron, steel, and gears that mimicked muscles and bone. Four mechanical arms extended from his bronze armored shoulders, while brilliant platinum wings tinged in traces of crimson and gold lay flat upon his back. It was a wondrous working of machinery that seemed suited for nothing less than immortality.”
Second reading: There’s so much worldbuilding in this story, and do you have any idea how hard doing a mystery story and an alternate world is without overloading with exposition? Purely on a technical level, that’s brilliant. It’s also so refreshing to read steampunk that isn’t western-centric; this is suffused in detail, and frequently subverts tropes of steampunk and associated genres (see: the sharp swipe at the exoticism of ‘foreign lands’ that is Fatma’s choice of dress.)