In my attempt to read all the Nebula nominated novels this year, I have finally picked up this much praised novel by Saladin Ahmed. I had heard great things about how it mixes fantasy with an Arabian setting and falls into the currently trending category of fantasy-that-is-not-medieval-Europe. I agree that it would be nicer to have more diverse settings and characters in any genre, but just putting things in the desert doesn’t make a great book either. In this case, it worked well. The hype, though? As usual, overdone.
Published by: Penguin, 2012
ebook: 288 pages
Series: The Crescent Moon Kingdoms #1
My rating: 7/10
First sentence:Nine days. Beneficient God, I beg you, let this be the day I die!
The blurb: The Crescent Moon Kingdoms, home to djenn and ghuls, holy warriors and heretics, are 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. But these killings are only the earliest signs of a plot for the Throne of the Crescent Moon that threatens to turn the great city of Dhamsawwaat, and the world itself, into a blood-soaked ruin.
I went into this with expectations based mostly on the cover image and what I’d heard in reviews. Which was Arabian Nights with zombies, more or less. Sometimes I ask myself why I still bother having expectations at all – most of the time they are not met, and I am happy about that. In Throne of the Crescent Moon, we are introduced to the ageing ghul-hunter Adoulla and his assistant, the dervish Raseed. Adoulla is more than tired of his life of demon-hunting, spell-casting, and generally living in danger. He is also somewhat foulmouthed and very likable. Juxtaposed to the zealot Raseed, the novel created a great dynamic between their points of view and I just loved how the author never lectures us on what to think. He merely presents people of very different beliefs and lets us choose whose side we’re on. Or not pick a side at all.
For a while, Adoulla and Raseed, who go out to hunt a group of ghuls that killed a family, remain the two point of view characters. Until they meet the girl Zamia whom I absolutely adored. I loved how she complicated the group dynamics even more, bringing in an entirely different way of life and culture. Seeing certain scenes from each of their perspectives shone an interesting light on them and moved the story along even in the quieter moments. However, later on, other characters are introduced and they also get their own view-point chapters. It’s probably a matter of taste, but I felt disrupted and even a little betrayed. I loved the focus on that trio of unequal heroes, I did’t want to see into other people’s heads. Characters can also be established without having their own view-point chapter, after all.
The most interesting parts of this book were neither the plot nor the mystery. It was Raseed fighting with himself and with his belief and how to consolidate it with what he has learned of the world. It was Zamia, a girl who has lost everything, coming to terms with what’s ahead of her. And, of course, their feelings towards each other. Partly because two new viewpoints were introduced mid-story, I didn’t get nearly enough of Zamia – her character was almost dropped completely from the narrative. I actually think (what I consider) the three main characters suffered for it. Neither Litaz nor Dawoud were intriguing enough to replace Zamia or Raseed’s storylines. I would have preferred to read only the trio’s points of view, with Dawoud and Litaz as side characters – a state above which they never really rise, anyway.
Apart from my minor character issue, I also had a bit of trouble with the pacing. The beginning was fantastic, we are introduced to characters, the world and its magic at a reasonable but not dull pace. Then suddenly, during the middle-part, there is a slump, a big zone of let’s-tell-this-one-unimportant-scene-reeeeaaally-slowly, for which I saw no reason whatsoever. Then again, at the end, the book was impossible to put down. When action follows action, Saladin Ahmed is at his best.
There are many little things wrong with the book – I suppose more prolific critics call them “first novel problems”. I was disappointed in the magic system and the revelations at the end, but despite all that, I still got some enjoyment out of it. This is a fun adventure story with a cool setting where religion is involved in practically everything the characters do or say. It didn’t live up to the massive hype, but it was a book I’d recommend for a quick, light fantasy read that isn’t set in alternate medieval Europe.
THE GOOD: Great characters who face (mostly inner) conflicts that kept me interested. A cool setting and fantastic action writing.
THE BAD: Two unnecessary POV characters, dragging middle-part.
THE VERDICT: A fun fantasy novel in an Arabian setting that suffers some first-novel-problems. Recommended.
RATING: 7/10 – Quite good
The Crescent Moon Kingdoms:
- Throne of the Crescent Moon