on 27 May 2014
I read Saladin Ahmed’s The Throne of the Crescent Moon on a bit of whim (and ages ago now, so excuse the shorter review) when my brother and I were looking for something different for me to read to him at night (we are each other’s audiobooks because we’re cool like that). We’d heard good things about it and my brother had—very briefly—started listening to the actual audiobook and liked the setting.
I find it one of the hardest books I have had to review: it is so very different from every other fantasy book I have read that I have nothing to compare it to. Not that comparison is necessary, but I have no basis on which to judge this book apart from how it touched me. The characters, the landscapes, even down to the writing style seemed to carry with them a touch of exoticness so very genuine that it made for a completely different, and wonderful, read.
Ahmed’s characters are a colourful lot, effortlessly deep and real, even those seen only for a couple of pages. There is something in the way that Ahmed writes that brings the characters to life, making them pop off the page in their colourfulness: it’s in the small gestures that tell us more than a page of description could, in the looks exchanged, in the most mundane of interactions that they become so very three dimensional.
I don’t think I found any of the characters dislikeable, and given that some are advanced in age and I sometimes struggle to get attached to older characters (I feel much too young to relate most of the time), there isn’t one member of the cast I wasn’t attached to by the end of the book. Adoulla, Raseed, Zamia, and the other important members of the cast are definitely characters that I would like to see more of.
Ahmed’s writing was enchanting from the start, creating beautiful landscapes with vivid and exotic descriptions. It created a feeling similar to reading stories from The Thousand and One Nights, which was very refreshing in a market where most fantasy uses medieval (or Renaissance) Europe as the base inspiration for its setting. The story too was both exotic and compelling, only revealing itself in all its importance towards the latter end of the book, when the stakes suddenly rocket sky high, and force the cast to risk their lives (I spent the last few pages awfully worried for everyone).
I enjoyed the pace, which was somewhat slower than I would have expected of a story of this length and yet never lulled and never bored. Instead, it seemed to want to give the reader the time to think, to ponder over the events and their consequences alongside of the characters creating a sense of immersion. At times, it almost felt as though I could have been sitting in the room with Adoulla and his friends.
Overall, I very much so enjoyed The Throne of the Crescent Moon and would definitely jumped on a second book if this was to be a series. It told a vivid, enchanting tale with characters and a writing style to match. It was a world that was hard to leave behind when I turned the last page of the book, and definitely one I hope to be able to go back to someday!
on 19 March 2012
The Throne of the Crescent Moon is a fun, fast-paced swashbuckling adventure, which presents a fresh and interesting world populated by interesting characters,
Doctor Adoulla Makhslood is an aging ghul hunter (ghuls are zombies or ghouls), who leaves the teeming streets of the grand city of Dhamsawaat to fight murderous supernatural creatures and the men who have created them. His apprentice is a young dervish, Raseed, a religious fanatic with a terrible swift sword arm. Travelling to investigate a ghul attack they find Zamia, a young tribeswoman with supernatural powers who has suffered a great tragedy. It slowly becomes apparent that some powerful sorcerer is at large, and has evil designs on the Doctor's city. Two more characters come into play: Litaz and Dawood, old friends and allies of the Doctor.
Running through this are the exploits of the Falcon Prince, a flamboyant enemy of the current Khalif, who presents himself as a robber-prince helping the poor against their oppressors. As the book kicks into high gear for a swashbuckling conclusion, all of these come together in a deadly threat to the city.
The book is very ambitious, with no less than 5 narrating characters, and can get a bit confusing at times, but overall the author pulls this off well. What he does brilliantly is to evoke some very real and distinctive characters and make them shine - the Doctor is world-weary, but determined to do his duty; Rasheed has his faith tested by meeting Zamia, who herself is struggling with her powers. The portrayal of Litaz and Dawood as a long-standing couple accepting each other while being concerned for the future is particularly well done considering they get the least page-time.
The other starring character is the world itself, as the author evokes a fantastical Arabian-themed land, with the teeming, chaotic city of Dhamsawaat, flavoursome magic, and depraved villains all lighting up the page. A cynical reader could say that it is simply a standard fantasy plot (hero assembles his allies and tries to defeat the bad guy) with some Thousand and One Nights thrown in for flavour, but I can assure you it is much more than the sum of its parts.
The book is the first in a series, but is a stand-alone story with a satisfying end. This is refreshing in an era of SF trilogies where you finish the first book to find nothing is resolved, and you will be waiting for book 3 for any answers.
There are some flaws - the cutting between characters is sometimes disconcerting, and the Falcon Prince is a bit one-note as a character - but they are far outweighed by the sheer sense of fun and exuberance the author brings to the book. Throne of the Crescent Moon will draw you in with an intriguing world and characters you want to spend time with, and deliver a swashbuckling tale along the way.
on 31 March 2014
This book shows that in a genre swamped with vampire romances, Game of Thrones rip offs and insipid young adult adventures, you can still find the odd fantasy gem. Throne of the Crescent Moon feels like an inspired mixture of Arabian Nights and the Gentleman Bastard novels of Scott Lynch. It is a page-turner full of sword fighting, magic and ghuls.
Eschewing the more traditional heroes, the main protagonist is Doctor Adoulla Makhslood, the aging and somewhat portly last ghul hunter. Despite his age and overwhelming desire to live out the rest of his days in comfort with a ready supply of cardamom tea, his calling keeps him fighting the different types of ghuls and the men that raise them. Adoulla is a great character; grumpy and bitter at times, but with a noble core.
In any other take on this story, the main character would be the Doctor’s assistant, Raseed bas Raseed, a zealous idealist who is a talented swordsman. It would have been easy to have Adoulla be the Obi Wan like mentor to the boy. That this is not the case certainly improves the story. In all other respects however, Raseed is a fantasy trope, a virginal/celibate but hyper competent hero who has his belief system thrown into doubt by love.
An old love of Adoulla asks him to investigate the death of family members, so he and Raseed leave the city to investigate. During a ghul attack they are aided by Zamia, a shapeshifter determined to avenge her people. Linking with Adoulla’s old friends Dawoud and Litaz, they come across a plot to capture the Throne of the Crescent Moon from the current incumbent Khalif, and unlock its mystical and terrible powers. Thrown into the mix too is The Falcon Prince, a Robin Hood type outlaw who speaks for the downtrodden people and is at war with the Khalif. His own struggle interlinks at times with that of Adoulla, and provides some much needed grey in a story filled with black and white.
If I were to be uncharitable, I’d say that the book doesn’t lack for fantasy tropes. While it’s setting and characters make it stand out from the crowd, there is nothing here that is particularly innovative. There is a bit of a lull in the middle where you’ll be as impatient as Zamia for the plot to get moving again, and some of the problems are solved a little too conveniently.
There are minor quibbles though. The book is infused with a sense of fun that keeps you wanting the turn the page. The characters may be largely fantasy archetypes, but no less engaging for that, and a lot of their friendly banter is pitched perfectly. It is a light and quick read with some good swashbuckling action sequences. I’m already planning to buy more copies to give as presents to friends who I think will appreciate this, and I’ll be looking out for the next two in the series.
on 13 January 2013
Saladin Ahmed borrows from medieval epic fantasy and from Scheherezade's narration to create a tantalizingly familiar world in this novel. There are bazaars in desert cities and golem-like ghuls that prowl the countryside. Magical powers are invested in religious or spiritual faith, in oaths, and in curses and deals made with malevolent powers.
The storytelling is complex and nuanced, beginning with an aging protagonist, burdened not only with a mission, but with the choices of his past, mediocre health, and a zealot for an assistant. Naturally enough, he is almost immediately saddled with a shape-changing, failed tribal protector, whose cultural differences with the zealot threaten a good working relationship. In an office, you'd say this is not the stuff of which high stakes are made, but with wizardry, necromancy, mystical swordplay, and alchemy in the mix, a certain level of trust is absolutely necessary.
The plot follows a rise in the appearance of ghuls, whose sole purpose is slaughter, and the powers behind them. What starts out as a fairly typical epic fantasy (typical in plot, not in setting) quickly transforms into a multidimensional world as Ahmed slips from one character's POV to another. If there is a weak point in his storytelling, it is that not all of his characters are as strong in voice, but their perspectives nevertheless enhance what happens. Furthermore, he doesn't let small points drop. Doctor Makhslood, the ghul hunter in question, turned his back on the love of his life in order to be a ghul hunter. She has not forgiven him and this fact becomes relevant to the actions in the telling. Which is to say, events both great and small push people forward and increase their momentum.
This is a great, fun read with good character turns in surprising places. Looking greatly forward to the next installment.
on 21 November 2012
I don't read much fantasy, mainly because the genre doesn't often appeal to me. Every now and then I come across one that takes my fancy, and because of my taste I'm rarely disappointed when I put sci-fi aside to read one. Over the past few years only a handful of fantasy books have made it into my reading, and of those few only two stuck with me: The Painted Man by Peter V Brett and The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed can be added to that small and exclusive club.
Doctor Adoulla Makhslood is a ghul hunter, and with his assistant, Raseed bas Raseed, he hunts and kills ghuls. It's a lonely life, with devotion to the craft being of utmost importance. Between the two of them Adoulla and Raseed are successful in their work, and as one of the last of the ghul hunters there is always work on the horizon. But when he takes a job for his old flame after members of her family are murdered, Adoulla realises that despite his age and experience, there are some things that not even he has faced. And as he learns more of this new foe, he realises just how much danger the Crescent Moon Kingdoms face.
Throne of the Crescent Moon is not a long book, coming in at under 300 pages. With many fantasy novels hitting double that page count, you'd be forgiven in thinking that such a slim novel might not offer the most in-depth world building, nor the longest or most interesting of tales. But you'd be wrong. Throne of the Crescent Moon is a hugely enjoyable story set in a world that has been vividly realised.
The characters we follow are all well developed, and not in the sense of becoming more rounded as the story progresses, but from page one. Adoulla and Raseed have an amusing relationship, with Raseed the holy man bound by strict rules of his faith, and Adoulla much more experienced and world-weary. Adoulla has much to offer as a character, and it is through him that the story really gains its legs, adding so much to what seems to be a fairly standard good-versus-evil tale. Raseed cannot justify anything that is even slightly wrong, and while it starts to grate a little by the end, his character is interesting and does evolve, but stays believable to his faith and ways. The other character that I enjoyed was Zamia, who is almost the complete opposite to Raseed. A member of the wandering tribes, and one of very few that can shape shift into the form of a Lion, Zamia completes the core group and adds her own impulsive ways.
The story, on the whole, is a fairly simple affair, with the threat of dark and evil beings to the Crescent Throne slowly becoming more pronounced. The Falcon Prince - another character I found amusing and interesting - is bringing about a rebellion against the Khalif, and events within the city of Dhamsawaat are unstable at best. There are more layers to the story than initially come across, and the more it progresses the more intriguing it becomes.
As for the Crescent Moon Kingdoms, and the wider world in which the story is set, I was impressed with how easy Ahmed conveyed the world building without bogging down the story. Yes, there are aspects left untouched, but they are off-page and not central to the story, but despite that there was a true feeling of history and scale to the world. The biggest plus point for me about this book was how easily I slipped into the setting and understood what was happening, how things worked in the city of Dhamsawaat, and just how real it all felt to me.
Throne of the Crescent Moon gave me the sort of story I often want, but rarely find. The prose is easy to read, the characters and setting a joy to behold, and the story begs you to read just another chapter. It's an impressive novel, and Saladin Ahmed is an author I'll be keeping my eye on.
on 24 March 2013
In my younger days I read a fair bit of fantasy, most of it set in worlds drawn from the myths and history of northern Europe. In seeking to dip back into the genre, it was refreshing to have an novel recommended to me that took inspiration from a different source. Ahmed's debut novel fuses pseudo-Muslim beliefs with other myths sourced from the Arabic world, and the dry lands that form the Kingdoms of the Crescent Moon are all the more pleasing for it. Unfortunately that's where the originality ends, and the well thought out backdrop does nothing to combat the over-familiarity of the characters. They're a plot-driven bunch with only enough complexity as is needed to keep the story going, and for all the quirks of the fresh mythos on show their natures echoed Dungeons & Dragons flavoured heroes and heroines I've long been familiar with. It's the same old stuff, in different packaging. That's not to say the book isn't enjoyable - it's a well-paced and smartly written little swashbuckler - but in failing to match content to concept it doesn't live up to the sheer potential of the Big Idea behind it.
on 3 December 2015
We have the Thousand and One Nights in our world, and in another world they have a similar set of tales and Throne of The Crescent Moon is one of those stories. From the first few pages you know that you have been dipped into a different fantastical environment. In many ways the story is very straightforward, but Saladin Ahmed has created a cast of characters who live lives with believable relationships with friends and lovers. Indeed if there is a theme throughout the book, for me it was one of the importance on having those you can depend upon, even if there are limits. The book moves at a steady pace and kept me enthralled. Most enjoyable. I have one question, where is the sequel?
on 29 January 2013
I had been looking forward to Throne of the Crescent Moon coming out in the UK after American readers had recommended it, and I was hardly disappointed. It is a great first book, and a really solid piece of prose. There were what I considered to be errors in storytelling, but to me, that just meant the story needed twenty more pages it did not have, which was the main disappointment. I wanted the Ghul-hunter and his collection of motley friends and allies to keep on going for a little bit longer, from halfway through. It was a story with a reason to be told, in a setting that was new to me. It also gave me some new insults between friends to add to my collection. Bonus!
on 6 February 2013
A fantasy novel where the main character is a fat, middle aged, tired old man? Set in a scenario that culturally draws on the Middle East rather than the usual Middle Ages, this book was a joy to read.
Dr Abdoulla Makhslood is the last ghul hunter in the city of Dhamsawaat. Aided by the devout Raseed, an 18-year-old Dervish warrior whose faith is tested by the realities of city life, Abdoulla's strength is fading and he's worried about what will happen if he dies. When his former lover, Miri Almoussa seeks his help after her niece and nephew are killed by ghuls, his investigation leads him to the only survivor of a murdered desert tribe - 15 year old Zamia, a shapeshifter able to turn into a lion.
Their investigation reveals a sinister plot to destabilise Dhamsawaat, a city already caught in a battle between the cruel Khalif and self-style Falcon Prince for the soul of its people. Abdoulla and his friends will have to choose sides if they're to avoid seeing their world turned into a blood-soaked ruin ...
Saladin Ahmed's debut novel, the first in a trilogy, is an okay fantasy read but despite its refreshing use of Arabian themes and settings in its world building, its female characters are a depressing mix of wives, whores and virgins, the villains are underdeveloped ciphers and the plot turns on contrivance to propel it. Although I liked the cynical and world-weary Abdoulla enough to check out the remaining books, I won't be hurrying to do so.
Abdoulla is a great character - cynical and world weary, he's torn between his desire for a peaceful retirement and the knowledge that doing so will leave the world defenceless against evil. I enjoyed his teasing of the devout but naïve Raseed and his affection for the boy but wished that Raseed had been developed a little more beyond the stock religious ingénue who finds his worldview challenged.
By contrast the female characters are underdeveloped. Zamia is a rude, virginal girl seeking revenge for her tribe, Miri is a whore who wants Abdoulla to marry her and alchemist Litaz a wife desperate to return to her homeland. The villains fare even worse - little more than ciphers whose motivation is never explained and the plot is heavily reliant on contrivance to keep moving. This is a shame because I really enjoyed the world building here as Ahmed uses Arabian themes and styles to draw his world to refreshing effect.
All in all, I will keep reading this trilogy but the lack of good female characters means I won't be in a hurry to do so.