Looking for a short read that packs a wallop? From a pair of paranormal mysteries in an unforgettably steampunk vision of Cairo, to a wild and hilarious mingling of revenge, old magic and nano-tech in post-apocalypse Kathmandu, and finally, to a quietly powerful, heart-filling love story among the the ancient trees and still older gods of England’s forests–here are this month’s #thebookshelf recommendations for a round-the-world journey through some short but unforgettable reads.
A Dead Djinn in Cairo and The Haunting of Tram Car 015, by P. Djèlí Clark
I stumbled across this first recommendation quite by accident, as a free story on the Tor.com website. P. Djèlí Clark’s A Dead Djinn in Cairo gives us a world that is so realistically rendered that you can hear the crackle of electricity from the tram car lines and taste the sugary sweetness of the baqlawa. I’ve been a fan of stories about the magic of the djinn since I discovered the Bartimaeus sequence by Jonathan Stroud many years ago and I’ve read many takes on the lore. Here in Clark’s Cairo, we have a whole new spin on the mythology, in a world that effortlessly blends steampunk technology, alternate dimensions, magic, and murder mystery together with life in a vibrant, post-colonial city. The story follows Agent Fatma el-Sha’arawi–the unforgettably dapper special investigator with the Egyptian Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities–as an unusual murder case turns out to be a much bigger problem than she could have imagined.
Set in the same world, The Haunting of Tram Car 015 introduces us to Agent Hamed Nasr, who–like Fatma–is an investigator with the Ministry. Here, the apparently simple task of handling a possessed tram car soon becomes far more complicated. Clark creates the most wonderfully real characters, full of quirks that make them step off the page (not literally…yet, anyway) and puts them in challenging situations with wildly entertaining results.
Initially, I was rooting for the delightfully unflappable Fatma to appear in this story, but it wasn’t long before I’d settled in and was content to let Nasr’s story unfold. Mind you (and in the interest of no spoilers) I will just say that I do love it when I get my way! I look forward to reading more adventures from this universe. And when you’ve finished these two, check out P. Djèlí Clark’s The Black God’s Drums.
The Gurkha and the Lord of Tuesday by Saad Z. Hossain
Next up, the djinn takes the reins. And not just any djinn…
King Melek Ahmar, Lord of Mars, the Red King, Lord of of Tuesday, Most August Rajah of Djinn has awoken from 4,000 years of slumber trapped inside a Himalayan mountain, and all he wants is to go back to what he does best: having a good time. But his plan for a little light conquering is derailed when he discovers that the world is very much not as he left it. When he encounters the crafty, pista-eating, knife-wielding Gurkha Bhan Gurung on the road to Kathmandu (which is now a government-controlled utopia presided over by the all-seeing AI Karma), it isn’t long before the Lord of Tuesday finds himself the bemused accomplice in a plot for revenge, 40 years in the making. With loads of wit and a clever plot, this is a great read!
Silver in the Wood (Book One of the Greenhollow Duology) by Emily Tesh
Finally, from the murder and mayhem of djinn and AI, to the seemingly quiet, but no less powerful forests of England, we have Emily Tesh’s Silver in the Wood. Tobias, the Wild Man of Greenhollow lives a quiet life and he’s just fine with that, thank you very much. With his cat and the forest’s dryads for company, he listens to the trees and tries not to think about his past. But when the handsome and intensely curious new owner of Greenhollow Hall pushes his way into Tobias’s cottage–and life–in a very Jane Austen-approved manner, the Wild Man of Greenhollow soon finds his quiet life turned upside down by new love, old magic and the darkness of the past. Take a walk among the trees of Greenhollow for a sweet love story, full of mythology, hilarious family drama, and a lush setting that might just be the perfect break on a hot summer afternoon. I can’t wait for book two, Drowned Country, coming out in August, 2020.
Featured image artwork by Kevin Hong