Engraved on the Eye: Ahmed writes what he knows

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Engraved on the Eye by Saladin Ahmed fantasy book reviewsEngraved on the Eye by Saladin Ahmed

The first story in Saladin Ahmed’s Engraved on the Eye is about the meeting of the two main characters in his novel Throne of the Crescent Moon, and I liked it enough that it inspired me to look for the novel. I can see what the critical fuss is about: Ahmed writes smoothly and well, has interesting protagonists, and makes their choices matter.

Early on in the collection, it looked as if all the protagonists were going to be young Muslims struggling with faith and ethical choices as well as with life, but later in the book we got a couple of stories where this wasn’t the case (and another where it was). In all but the last story, though, a well-told sword-and-sorcery tale with an unusual ending (for sword-and-sorcery), the main character was either Muslim, a member of an ethnic minority, or both. “Write what you know” is good writing advice, and Ahmed does it well, and gives me (as a non-Muslim non-minority person) a degree of insight into a life experience different from my own. This is partly what I read speculative fiction for. I recognized at least one repurposed Arabic fable, too, and the story was none the worse for its classical roots.

Another thing that most of the main characters had in common was a strong emotional connection to a lost, threatened, unattainable, geographically distant or otherwise absent beloved (or, in one case, brother). This provided the plots with plenty of fuel, but the risk of this strategy is that the beloved becomes a McGuffin instead of a character. Again, in the last story, the lost beloved at least gets to speak, though not much more. This is a feature that’s in danger of becoming a bug, in my opinion.

The stories in Engraved on the Eye were certainly worth my time and money.

Engraved on the Eye — (2012) Stories to Captivate the Imagination: Welcome to the worlds of Saladin Ahmed. A medieval physician asked to do the impossible. A gun slinging Muslim wizard in the old West. A disgruntled super villain pining for prison reform. A cybernetic soldier who might or might not be receiving messages from God. Prepare yourself to be transported to new and fantastical worlds. The short stories in this collection have been nominated for the Nebula and Campbell awards. They’ve been reprinted in The Year’s Best Fantasy and other anthologies, recorded for numerous podcasts, and translated into several foreign languages. Now they are collected in one place for the first time. Experience for yourself the original voice of one of fantasy’s rising stars!

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MIKE REEVES-MCMILLAN, one of our guest reviewers, has eight bookcases which are taller than he is in his basement, and 200 samples on his Kindle. He’s trying to cut down. A lifelong lover of the written word, he’s especially a fan of Jim Butcher, Lois McMaster Bujold, Terry Pratchett and Roger Zelazny. He reads a lot of indie fiction these days, and can report that the quality and originality are both improving rapidly. He himself writes the Gryphon Clerks fantasy series, and numerous short stories. Mike lives in Auckland, New Zealand, and also in his head, where the weather is more predictable and there are a lot more dragons. He rants about writing and genre at The Gryphon Clerks and about books he’s read at The Review Curmudgeon.

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