I have been a steampunk fan since before I knew the subgenre existed. For that matter, I’ve been writing in the subgenre before I knew it existed. My first steampunk story, “The Slayers,” was published in Realms of Fantasy Magazine in 2001 and I didn’t really become aware of the genre until the release of Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker in 2009. My love of steampunk stems from looking at history and asking “what if” questions. When I was growing up, it seemed like the only fantasy stories available were set in a world that felt like medieval Europe. So I loved the idea of fantasy and alternate historical science fiction that opened up the time periods where these stories could be set. There seems an expectation that “steampunk” must be associated with Victorian England, but again because I came at these kinds of stories from sources like The Wild Wild West and Jules Verne’s Voyages extraordinaires, I never really saw England as a necessary component. I’m always delighted when a steampunk or fantasy tale takes me someplace I’ve never been.
Over the last few years, I’ve been delighted by the novellas of P. Djèlí Clark. The first I read was The Black God’s Drums set in post-Civil War New Orleans about a young woman who wants to escape the streets by earning the trust of an airship pirate crew. She thinks the key might be some information she’s gained about a Haitian scientist. Fortunately, the young woman, Creeper, can also manipulate the weather. As far as I’m concerned Clark told another amazing tale in The Haunting of Tram Car 015, which is set in 1912 Cairo. In the story, agents Hamed Nasr and Onsi Youssef of the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities are tasked with removing a malevolent supernatural entity from an aerial tram car.
I was delighted to see that Professor Clark returned to his alternate Cairo in a full length novel, A Master of Djinn. Although Hamed and Onsi appear in the novel, they aren’t the point of view characters. This time, we meet Fatma el-Sha’arawi, a woman working for the same ministry. The novel is basically murder mystery. Someone has killed every member of a brotherhood dedicated to al-Jahiz, who opened the veil to the magical realm allowing djinn to return to our world. The murderer claims to be al-Jahiz returned and he threatens to start a popular uprising. Agent Fatma must get to the bottom of who this person is before he disrupts an important peace conference being set up in Cairo.
A Master of Djinn proved a fun, fast-paced tale with some fascinating glimpses at North African, Islamic culture. Tucked in the narrative is a little background on the 1001 Arabian Nights, which I enjoyed, especially after some of my own research for a story I wrote called “Horse Feathers,” which I hope to say more about soon. While waiting for that, you can explore my steampunk world, which starts in the American West of 1877 and finds its way to Mexico, Japan, Russia, and Iran. You can get more details about the Clockwork Legion series at: http://davidleesummers.com/books.html#clockwork_legion