Engraved 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.