Review: Judgment of Swords and Souls (from Engraved on the Eye)

It’s kind of hard to believe that Saladin Ahmed‘s Throne of the Crescent Moon is about 3 years old already, having debuted in 2012. I snapped that book up so quickly it wasn’t even funny, driven by the need to see fantasy books in non-European based settings.
 But, actually, before I picked up Crescent Moon, I got a copy of Ahmed’s short story collection, Engraved on the Eye in order to get a feel for his writing. To that point, I was really only familiar with him through Twitter and second-hand praise, haha. So of course I had to hop on the bandwagon first.
index I love Engraved on the Eye as a whole, by the way. I think at this point there’s maybe one story in there I don’t care for, and I’ve read it many times on many a bus commute to and from work. Overall, I’d have to say my favorite story in the collection is “Doctor Diablo Goes Through the Motions” because it manages to loop between hilarious and sad so perfectly. But for right now I’d like to talk about my other favorite, “Judgment of Sword and Souls”.
This story and “Where Virtue Lives” really help set up the origins of Crescent Moon, if you’re like me and you get to the end of the stories like, “okay I need more adventures with this person.” Fear not!
The story “Judgment of Swords and Souls” was so cool for me especially because it reminded me of my favorite female-fronted martial arts films. If you read it out loud to yourself, it sounds like a Shaw Brothers plot, really. It’s not just a reminder that “Oh hey, women of color can kick ass too” but women can kick ass for honor and respect and sweet, sweet vengeance.
“Judgment” is just such a good piece writing that packs in a lot of intrigue and action into a small place, and well-developed characters with clear cut motivations. Every event has a purpose and such an impact, I found myself muttering soft, “Oh damn!”s constantly. The ending especially really got me because it’s that rare open-ended ending that’s actually satisfying. Whenever I read this story, it immediately makes me want to go write my own female protag kicking ass, but then I remember I’m terrible at action writing.
Ahmed wrote a tweet to the effect that even tropes that are dead-tired can become fresh again when applied to people of color because it’s such a rarity that we get a chance to shine; that’s what I think of when I read this story. Is it an extremely original plot? No, but when applied to a woman it definitely became new and exciting simply because That Doesn’t Happen Very Often. You don’t always have to set out to reinvent the wheel. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m revved up again to do some terrible action sequencing quite possibly influenced by way too many wuxia films.
You can get Engraved on the Eye right here and read “Judgment of Swords and Souls” for free on Ahmed’s website here.

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