Goodreads review: “Yaqteenya”

Yaqteenya: The Old WorldYaqteenya: The Old World by Yasser Bahjatt

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked up this book at the freebie table at Worldcon 76 in San Jose and read it on the airplane home. The author was on a panel I moderated, “Exploring a Wider Universe: Beyond the world of Anglophone SF/F,” where he represented the history of Saudi Arabian science fiction and its hopes for the future with deep knowledge and entertaining anecdotes.

When I paged through it, I decided to take it home because I was intrigued by its references to Andalusia, since I lived in Spain for 17 years, and by the story-telling style of discovered documents. Yaqteenya is alternate history, with dashes of science fiction and fantasy. After Granada falls to the Spaniards in 1492 and the Muslims are betrayed and expelled (which really happened), some of them sail west and create an Islamic settlement in the New World. Many of the indigenous tribes there convert. But problems develop that can best be solved by finding out what has happened in the Old World. A young man rises to the challenge. First, though, he must help bring peace to Yaqteenya.

The adventure is fast-paced, carefully structured, and rich with details. Arabic culture permeates the characters’ actions and attitudes. I give it four stars for that – but not five. It could have benefitted from a more professional translation (“brake” and “break” are different words), and the author falls into common cliches, especially the false idea that if someone is bonked on the head, they conveniently black out and later wake up and are just fine besides a bruise. In reality that person has suffered serious brain damage.

Still, the scope of the story is exhilarating, and Islamic alternate history adds an enriching perspective to the question of “what if” that underlays the genre. What if events in 1492 had gone differently? The whole world would have a new trajectory.

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