Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

Goodreads: Throne of the Crescent Moon
Series: The Crescent Moon Kingdoms #1
Source: ARC from Goodreads First Reads giveaway

Goodreads Summary: (Long, but I reference it in the review)

From Saladin Ahmed, finalist for the Nebula and Campbell Awards, comes one of the year’s most anticipated fantasy debuts, THRONE OF THE CRESCENT MOON, a fantasy adventure with all the magic of The Arabian Nights.

The Crescent Moon Kingdoms, land of djenn and ghuls, holy warriors and heretics, Khalifs and killers, is at the boiling point of a power struggle between the iron-fisted Khalif and the mysterious master thief known as the Falcon Prince. In the midst of this brewing rebellion a series of brutal supernatural murders strikes at the heart of the Kingdoms. It is up to a handful of heroes to learn the truth behind these killings:

Doctor Adoulla Makhslood, “The last real ghul hunter in the great city of Dhamsawaat,” just wants a quiet cup of tea. Three score and more years old, he has grown weary of hunting monsters and saving lives, and is more than ready to retire from his dangerous and demanding vocation. But when an old flame’s family is murdered, Adoulla is drawn back to the hunter’s path.

Raseed bas Raseed, Adoulla’s young assistant, a hidebound holy warrior whose prowess is matched only by his piety, is eager to deliver God’s justice. But even as Raseed’s sword is tested by ghuls and manjackals, his soul is tested when he and Adoulla cross paths with the tribeswoman Zamia.

Zamia Badawi, Protector of the Band, has been gifted with the near-mythical power of the Lion-Shape, but shunned by her people for daring to take up a man’s title. She lives only to avenge her father’s death. Until she learns that Adoulla and his allies also hunt her father’s killer. Until she meets Raseed.

When they learn that the murders and the Falcon Prince’s brewing revolution are connected, the companions must race against time–and struggle against their own misgivings–to save the life of a vicious despot. In so doing they discover a plot for the Throne of the Crescent Moon that threatens to turn Dhamsawaat, and the world itself, into a blood-soaked ruin.

Review: Throne of the Crescent Moon was an interesting, character-driven fantasy with more personal reflection than plot.  The story is not an action-packed fight to death against ghuls, as one might glean from the official summary, but rather a painstakingly planned battle against a mysterious ghul-raiser that involves more books and research than it does swords.  Funnily enough, even a few of the characters are a bit annoyed by this.

But they are not only impatient with the pacing, they are impatient with each other—and this is another area where the reader can probably agree.  Just about every character has a single thing on which he or she likes to harp: the Doctor is old and tired and does not want this responsibility anymore, Raseed wants to be a better dervish more focused on God and will quote endless amounts of their sacred Scriptures to prove it, and Zamia just wants revenge, NOW. Their distinct personalities are great, and in the end they and the more minor characters form a beautiful raggedy family, but it would have been refreshing if they each had more than one thing they liked to talk/think about.

Ahmed’s main concern seems to have been to make his characters are human as possible by giving them such glaring flaws.  He also frequently employs rather familiar and vulgar language.*  The Doctor is called an “old fart” numerous times, sometimes in reference to himself, and there are a decent amount of references to excrement and whores.  Overall, this type of dialogue was a bit jarring and detracted from the fantasy aspect.

In the same vein, the official summary’s claim that this book has the magic of the Arabian Nights is a bit of a stretch.  There is not much magic, and what magic there is does not happen to be very flashy.  The other aspects of the book are not particularly magical either. The world may be foreign to most readers, but it is gritty, crowded, and smelly. Not much comes across as an exotic dream here, particularly since the characters are not even well off enough to live in the nice part of the city.

These shortcomings were somewhat discouraging, particularly with all the critical praise being heaped on this book. However, completely unexpectedly, the last quarter of the book was completely enthralling.  Previously I had been reading a chapter a day, skipping days in between chapters.  I read the end in a single sitting, staying up to the wee hours of the morning.  There was action, excitement, and more than one fantastic plot twist.  It was amazing.  The characters even got over their woes.  If Ahmed can continue to write the way he wrote this conclusion, he will release a gripping and imaginative sequel, and I could actually recommend the series.

Published: February 7, 2012

*I have noticed that since Ahmed’s Tweet referencing my review, several people have searched “familiar and vulgar language” to find this page.  To clarify, the book started coming closer to realism than fantasy for me when characters walked up to each other and greeted them as “you old fart” or “you fat son of a goat” (not an actual quote, but it captures the spirit of some of the characters’ exchanges).  By vulgar language, I mean that in the middle of their quest to save the city, they would suddenly say things like, “I just farted” or “This street smells like piss.”  Not my idea of magical.

I am also not attempting to make any value judgment about realism. I intended merely to express my surprise at how realistic this book is, as the official summary, the cover, the title, or even other reviews never gave me this impression. Nor did I intend to express any sort of “classism” against the protagonists.  I was merely observing they live in the poorer part of the city, and that Ahmed offers some well-written descriptions of this.  If anything, this book reveals the lower class protagonists to be generally better people than many of those in power at the palace.

Further, by describing the book as realistic, I did not mean to discourage anyone from reading it, including “sensitive” readers. While I maintain that frequent references to bodily functions do not add joy to my day and are not common in polite conversation, I acknowledge that this book is relatively clean. Anyone who is a bit particular about the books they read should be aware there are no sex scenes in this book, which I think would be a much larger deterrent than a reference to the fact humans do not process their food 100% efficiently.

4 thoughts on “Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

  1. Krysta says:

    I didn’t understand you to be saying that the familiar language or the gritty settings were intrinsically bad things. Rather, I thought you provided this information to those readers who might be looking for a fantasy more in the vein of J. R. R. Tolkien or C. S. Lewis rather than George R. R. Martin. I often read reviews when searching for books to give as presents, and I like to see information like this so I can determine whether or not a story would be suitable for a younger reader, etc. Furthermore, I thought you balanced this information well with aspects of the book you enjoyed, so the fact that the story contains some common language shouldn’t necessarily deter anyone from reading it.

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    • Briana says:

      I wouldn’t say this has much in common with the one book I read by Martin either. In terms of plot, Martin was far more focused on complex political intrigue. His book also had sex scenes, which I suppose could have been his attempt at realism…. But thank you! And I would give Throne of the Crescent Moon a PG-13 rating. 😉

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  2. Small Review says:

    I agree with Krysta. I like to know things like that about a book before I pick it up for myself or recommend it to one of my library patrons. It’s not that those features are necessarily BAD, but they are important to know when trying to match the right book with the right reader. Thank you for the info! I had originally expected something lighter and more “magical” with less gritty realism.

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    • Briana says:

      Thank you! I was attempting to clarify what type of audience might enjoy this book–people who enjoy realistically flawed setting and characters in their fantasy! And I was also trying to save the book from the problem that some novels like The Night Circus have had–readers who were disappointed because the summary somehow did not match the content, even though the content itself may have been good.

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