Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed
|Book Name:||Throne of the Crescent Moon|
|Publisher(s):||Gollancz (UK) DAW (US)|
|Formatt:||Hardcover / Paperback / Audio Book / eBook|
|Release Date:||January 17, 2013 (UK) December 31, 2012 (US)|
While fantasy is clearly a genre of startling variation, it rarely gets as exotic as Throne of the Crescent Moon. Moving away from the familiar medieval lands of most of our favourite fantasy epics, Saladin Ahmed presents a warm, colourful and spice-scented Arabian Nights-esque city as a gloriously rich backdrop for his tale of evil apparitions, zombie magic and the motivating powers of tea.
The hero of this short but vibrant novel is Doctor Adoulla Makhslood, an overweight and achy old man with more than sixty heavy years of perilous adventure behind him. The last of the ghul hunters protecting the heaving city of Dhamsawaat, Adoulla is bone weary and fed up with risking his life hunting the dark powers of djen, ghuls, and other bloodthirsty servants of the Traitorous Angel that plague the land. All he wants now is to settle down and spend his twilight years in good company with a rejuvenating cup of cardamom tea close at hand.
Alas, we can’t always get what we want. In the middle of a griping match with an old friend one day, Adoulla is interrupted by his exceptionally pious assistant Raseed bas Raseed and a small boy who brings unpleasant tidings of death and destruction. Jaded and disgruntled as he may be, Adoulla can’t refuse someone in need, particularly when there are lives at stake.
Despite all the years of ghul hunting on the Doctor’s CV he and his assistant soon realise that necromancer types shouldn’t be underestimated and there is always more to learn about things that go bump in the night. Discovering a presence more terrifying than the pair have ever conceived, the threat to their city – and the world – seems uncontainable. However, with a kindly twist of fate allying them with a shape-shifting lion-girl bent on revenge, a will of steel and a wealth of combined experience, the cluster of unlikely heroes are ready to take their best chance. After a good night’s sleep.
I really enjoyed this book for its swift and contained plot, honestly motivated characters and original approach to the genre. From the sinister prologue, that dives straight into the gory threat of black magic, to the surprising and morally ambiguous climax, Ahmed keeps the story pacy and detailed by frequently altering the point of view to the next relevant character. As well as leaving cliff hangers all over the place in battle scenes this allows for an enjoyable amount of action and insight into the various internal conflicts while allowing the characters a realistic amount of breathing space over the course of their adventure.
Ahmed indulges in a lot of realism in his approach to the characters, layering the different levels of their needs and desires and forcing them to make decisions and prioritise. Raseed and lion-hearted Zamia have a deep longing for one another, but are kept apart by a myriad of feelings that they can barely understand or give voice to and that ultimately take a back seat to their immediate needs. Far from slowing the story down, the internal conflicts give more significance to the overall quest and make you doubt the characters and therefore root for them harder.
As well as the detailed mixtures of feelings, each character also has basic bodily requirements to attend to that can be forgotten in tales of battle and adventure, such as eating, sleeping, resting from wounds and exertion, Zamia’s time of the month, and most importantly humour and idle conversation. It’s these details that can often define characters and occasionally dictate actions that could alter an entire plot.
In a world where genies roam free, a certain degree of magic is fairly commonplace and the characters use it as a readily prepared tool or weapon rather than as some mystical secret. I liked this, although its handiness felt slightly convenient at times. Due to its functionality, the magic system doesn’t require extensive descriptive detail but it does have severe costs that deplete the characters and have permanent negative effects on their lives. This level of sacrifice is admirable and shows the characters making the leap from unlikely to true heroes at the same time as introducing even more hurdles and challenges to overcome.
Religion plays quite a big part in the book, with the majority of characters holding on to some level of theistic belief. The differing outlooks on faith are incredibly interesting and vary from Raseed’s orthodox and God-fearing nature to the existentialist views of the usurping Falcon Prince. Ahmed doesn’t preach a particular belief through any character but has each brushed by the consequences of a closed mind and uses the theme of religion to teach each person something about themselves. The religious nature of Dhamsawaat’s citizens gives structure to Ahmed’s vivid worldbuilding as their society and its hierarchy is affected by the belief in God, including the magic system and how different powers are perceived.
The heavy incorporation of theism does however allow the villains to become stock baddies that are dark and evil because they just are. In fact my only real criticism is that the big bad isn’t given any motivation or character other than a hunger for power and a taste for blood, and barely gets a mention in the frenzy of the climactic scenes. The baddy’s assistant is much creepier because he jabbers on in a Gollum-like way that makes him feel crazy, desperate, unpredictable and incredibly dangerous.
On top of all its greatness, Throne of the Crescent Moon has a satisfying and rather lovely ending with plenty of plot threads left dangling for Saladin Ahmed to pick up and dance about with. I’m really looking forward to more from this author. If this is his debut just imagine what wonders his future work will bring.