A few months ago I saw a retweet from someone about this new author who had won an award for his debut fantasy novel called Throne of the Crescent Moon. I was intrigued by the title and once I’d seen it, the cover. I read the cover-copy and started following the author (Saladin Ahmed) on twitter. The book promptly went on my “To Buy” list (a separate but related list to my “To Read” list, and yes of course I actually keep real lists!). It took a while for the money to become available for me to actually buy it, but I finally got a copy of it a month or so ago at my local indie bookstore. Monday evening I finally finished it. Whew! Let me tell you, that was an interesting ride!
Anyway, there will be spoilers ahead, below the cut.
*Siren noises* WEEOOOO WEEEOOO SPOILER ALERT
Seriously, turn back now if you do not want some of the plot revealed to you. Last chance!!!
Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed is an epic fantasy set in an Arabian Nights-ish secondary world. The city most of the story takes place in, Dhamsawaat, is full of medieval arab themes and cultural influences. There are Khalifs and tea-houses, djenn and magicians, ghuls and God. The Crescent Moon Kingdoms are a delightful blend of eastern culture and fantasy magic of the sort that doesn’t get enough attention in western media.
The book has five view-point characters, all with a wide range of experience, morals, and skills, who band together to save the city of Dhamsawaat and ultimately the world from a truly fearsome foe. One of the things I find most interesting about it was that three of the primary characters, including the first POV (point of view) character you meet, are old. Doctor Adoulla the Ghul Hunter is the last of the ghul hunters and an old man. It’s not often that the hero of a fantasy-story is older, and it makes for an interesting change of pace without slowing the action down. Adoulla’s friends, the married couple Dawoud and Litaz, are also older. Dawoud is even becoming a bit decrepit, though due to magic more than age. These three experienced heroes are joined by two younger ones, Raseed a devout holy-man with a swift sword-arm and Zamia an orphaned girl with God-given powers. These five are brought together by circumstances and a common enemy to rid the world of their (very very powerful) foe before he can gain more power and become unstoppable. It’s a very simple narrative arc with very un-simple details.
I generally enjoyed the book, but I must admit to getting a bit bogged down in the latter part of the book. The book slows a bit. The five-character view-point is interesting and informative, but it is prone to a certain amount of overlap in events as we ride behind the eyes of one character for a scene then switch to another character to see how they viewed the same scene. There was also a certain lack of oomph with some of the plot. It wasn’t that the events were unimportant or that I didn’t care about them, it was simply that I didn’t care about them as much as the story appeared to. Still, the action never entirely stops and despite my limited reading-time I was still drawn back to the book repeatedly until I could find out if the heroes defeat the monsters.
On the subject of monsters, I must say that Ahmed does a truly excellent job. His world is full of evil Djenn and zombie-like ghuls who prey on mortals. The ghuls are the most common monster in Throne of the Crescent Moon, and they come in a variety of types. All of them are created and directed by inimical humans, and some of them are truly terrifying. The skin-ghuls at the end are unbelievably creepy, and I was certain we might actually lose a POV character to them. They are basically un-killable zombies with the fighting-skills of any normal human. Yea. CREEPY.
The last three chapters are where the book really has the most impact though. Action, gut-wrenching fear and moral dilemmas all roil into a few short pages and kept me flipping right to the end (I meant to read ONE chapter before bed, and finished the damn book!). Ahmed doesn’t pull his punches here either. The book ends on an optimistic note with the promise of a wedding (you’ll have to read it to find out whose!), but it still ends in uncertainty. I’ll note, this does appear to be the first in a series, so that is desirable in an ending. And best of all, it made me eager to read the next book Ahmed writes.
Really, the highest praise I can give it is that Throne of the Crescent Moon inspired me. I’ve been struggling a bit lately with my own writing, and this book made me eager to get back into the swing of my stories. Ahmed’s prose are simple yet elegant, and his story has the wondrous feel I’ve only ever found when reading about Scheherazade. After I finished Throne Monday night and turned off the light, the bulb went on in my head and in a moment of inspiration I worked out a problem I had been having with one of my own short-stories. I had just about given up on that particular story, so I was grateful for that little spark of inspiration.
Art that inspires more art is the best sort of art, I always think.