“Seasons of Glass and Iron” by Amal El-Mohtar highlights the writer’s gifts

Note: this is review number four of the nominees for the Nebula Award for short fiction this year. You can see all the nominees listed here.


Who knew there really were such shoes? These are reportedly displayed at a medieval crime museum in Rothenburg, Germany.

Amal El-Mohtar is no stranger to accolades for her writing. She’s been a Nebula finalist before and won the Locus Award as well as several Rhysling Awards for poetry. I, however, have not been particularly thrilled with some of her more recent stories. So when I saw that she was nominated for the Nebula again this year, I worried that I would be handing out another tough review of an author whose work I want to like.

I am happy to report that my worries were misplaced. This is the story I’ve been waiting for from El-Mohtar. It’s both simpler in form and far, far, better in execution than earlier ones recently nominated for awards.

“Seasons of Glass and Iron”, published in Uncanny Magazine, is a sweet fantasy told from the perspectives of two characters who have painful lives involving curses and shame. One of the main characters is Tabitha who is crossing the world wearing iron shoes that must be worn out before they can be removed. And she is on the fourth of seven pairs. Despite her mangled feet and the pain, she sees beauty in the world all around her. Still, she cannot stop to make a new home. The other character, Amira, sits atop a glass mountain where she feels safe on her glass throne as long as she doesn’t move. Amira appreciates the peace that comes from keeping the world at bay far below her perch, yet she is lonely. Continue reading

Review: “Pockets” by Amal El-Mohtar–nominated for World Fantasy Award / Reseña: “Pockets” de Amal El-Mohtar– nominado al Premio Mundial de Fantasía

Note: This is the second review of a nominee for the 2016 World Fantasy Awards. You can see my review of Alyssa Wong’s nominated story “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers” here. (Wong’s story also won the Nebula Award this year.) The Spanish translation following this post is by Daniela Toulemonde.

Nominated for the World Fantasy Award for short fiction published in 2015, Amal El-Mohtar’s story “Pockets” is indeed very short. Unfortunately the story’s substance is also very thin. Now, before you dear readers skewer me for this opinion, let me concede that I may not be the best reader for El-Mohtar’s work. I’ve enjoyed several of her earlier stories, but I admit that her recent Nebula-nominated story “Madeleine” also did not completely satisfy my taste in fantasy short stories.

“Pockets” is primarily communicated through dialogue among three characters, and this is not the story’s problem. El-Mohtar is incredibly gifted at writing dialogue that is well-paced and illustrative of scenes without excessive stage direction. The story focuses on the exchange between three women who are trying to understand the reason why multiple odd things are somehow materializing in one woman’s pockets. It is sweet and very thoughtful. And that’s it. It’s got no umpf. Continue reading

Finalists announced for the World Fantasy Awards

World Fantasy Award ballots for works published in 2015 have been announced. The awards will be presented during the World Fantasy Convention, to be held October 27-30, 2016 in Columbus Ohio. Below are the finalists for short fiction:

  • “The Neurastheniac”, Selena Chambers (Cassilda’s Song, collection)
  • “Pockets”, Amal El-Mohtar (Uncanny 1-2/15)
  • “The Heat of Us: Notes Toward an Oral History”, Sam J. Miller (Uncanny 1-2/15)
  • “The Deepwater Bride”, Tamsyn Muir (F&SF 7-8/15)
  • “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers”, Alyssa Wong (Nightmare 10/15) Reviewed here.

I’ll get started on reviewing these just as soon as I finish chapter 38 and get my backlogged reviews posted, which means it will probably be a couple of weeks. I’m having trouble keeping track of time this summer. I suspect I may have been cursed by a daayan while in India. It’s either that or blogger’s block, and I will take a witch’s curse over that any day.

Nebula short story nominee “Madeleine” wrestles with soul-sapping grief / El cuento nominado a los premios Nébula “Madeleine” lidia con un dolor que llega hasta el alma

This is the fifth review of the 2015 Nebula Award nominees for best short story. Spanish translation below by Daniela Toulemonde.

depressionAs soon as I read the first sentence of Nebula short story nominee “Madeleine” –“Madeleine remembers being a different person.”–alarm bells sounded in my head. The voice is almost passive, it’s tight third person, and it’s a story about self reflection. Ugh. But I had enough faith in author Amal El-Mohtar to persevere, and I’m glad I did.

Madeleine is the child of a woman who is robbed of her memories and herself by Alzheimers. Bereft of family or close friends, Madeleine is nearly undone by grief after her mother’s death and foolishly agrees to participate in a clinical trial for a drug, which, she believes, has caused her to have incapacitating flashbacks. We see her battling the insistent logic of a psychologist who wants Madeleine to discuss her relationship with her mother even when our main character simply wants treatment for the episodes and to protect her memories. Continue reading