"The Hooves and Hovel of Abdel Jameela"
Clockwork Phoenix 2
Norilana Books: 2009
Nominated for the Nebula Award: Short Story
Narrated by a young "physicker" temporarily exiled from the palace in Baghdad, "The Hooves and Hovel of Abdel Jameela" tells a story set in the provincial village of Beit Zujaaj. The narrator refers to the locals as "bumpkins" and longs for the "colors of Baghdad", but Beit Zujaaj is his penance for seeking to rise too far above his station.
He is warned about Abdel Jameela, an old hermit living with his wife up on a hill. Stories of Abdel and his mysterious wife abound, many derisively calling her a witch.
Ahmed's story tells of the meeting of the narrator and Abdel and the impossible request made by the hermit.
"The Hooves and Hovel of Abdel Jameela" has an intense tonal shift from when the narrator is in the village to when he arrives at Abdel's hilltop home. The quiet superiority of the narration changes to horror and it is that shift which turned an otherwise pedestrian story to something much more interesting. Without that shift, this would have been a dull piece of fiction. With it, Saladin Ahmed addresses provincial superstition, personal morality, and he does so with style.
While this is still not a story to ultimately evoke strong reactions from readers, it ends stronger than it began. This is the least of the four Nebula stories I've read so far, but Saladin Ahmed is a writer to keep an eye on.