BOOK REVIEW: Throne of the Crescent Moon, by Saladin Ahmed

TITLE: Throne of the Crescent Moon
AUTHOR: Saladin Ahmed
PUBLISHER: DAW Books
ISBN: 978-0756407117
DOP: February 7th, 2012 (hardback)
AWARDS: 2013 Hugo Award nominee for best novel
2012 Nebula Award nominee for best novel
2013 Locus Award winner for the best first novel

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I am not sure where I first heard about Saladin Ahmed’s book, Throne of the Crescent Moon. I know it wasn’t from any of my friends, and something tells me it was one of those happy little coincidences that crop up occasionally. I actually believe I was researching lycanthropy for a multi-media project and came across a reference to a “girl who takes the lion shape.” I do remember I ended up on Mr. Ahmed’s website reading the first chapter of the book and being completely enthralled by it. Regardless of the fact that, at that time, the paperback was coming out in a few months I tracked down a copy of the hardback because, well, I enjoy hardbacks.

The Throne of the Crescent Moon takes place in the city of Dhamsawaat in in the Kingdom of the Crescent Moon. We are introduced to Doctor Adoulla Makhslood, one of the last true ghul hunters of the land, as he contemplates his life over cups of tea at the business of his friend Yehyeh, also known as Six Teeth. Before long, he is assailed by visions of a river of blood in the streets with death and the Traitorous Angel ruling over all. But when his assistant, the dervish holy warrior Raseed bas Raseed, appears before the doctor with a boy covered in the blood of his own family, he is propelled into a battle for the future of the kingdom, and for the souls of all who live there.

Let me first say this: If you judge a book by its cover or, in this case, an author by his name, you are doing yourself a great injustice. While overall the themes and archetypes of the books will be familiar to most readers, it is their deliverance and unique voice which makes it such a pleasure to read.

Much of the story which Mr. Ahmed crafted here is told in the voice of each character, sometimes with whole scenes being replayed through the different characters point of view. There are times that this seems to become slightly muddled, but overall it gives you the unique perspective of each individual character, a window into their mind and their personal view of the world.

But as much as the characters are front and center, it is the world itself that will hold you. Mr. Ahmed is building this world from a Middle Eastern point of view, seemingly basing it on an in-depth knowledge of Middle Eastern sensibilities and mythologies. The result is something that is dramatically different, and at the same time familiar, to the worlds built by authors who know purely the European views. You hear phrases, such as the Traitorous Angel or the Ministering Angels, and you know where they are coming from without actually having to have an intimate knowledge of their background. Young Zamia, a Badawi tribeswoman who has the power to shape change into a lion, is the protector of her band and the child of the band’s leader. Although no mention of lycanthropy is made, you intuitively know that this is something similar but different enough to be unique. Doctor Adoulla Makhslood could almost be counted toward the archtype of Professor Van Helsing, but he possesses traits that dispel that assumption and make it something new to this world. And I defy you to read Raseed bas Raseed’s points of view and not be reminded of a certain Knight of the Rose.

This world is a new one. From references to the One Thousand and One (jinn) and ghuls (zombie/golem mash-ups) you get just enough information to make you wonder what else lies out there among the sands. Analogues of Middle Eastern, Asian and African cultures are uncovered and hinted at, but you still want to know that little but more about them. The only reference to a European culture (that I can clearly recall) happens with the discussion of barbarians to the North and their supposed inability to be granted the gifts of the Ministering Angels despite rumors to the contrary.

But wait a minute, you’re thinking, you haven’t actually told us about the story! Well, there is a reason for that, and it is the same reason I will not reveal most stories that I review story; it has to be discovered buy the reader. I could sit here and tell you all about characters like the arrogant and popular revolutionary/thief the Falcon Prince, or the dark and corrupt Kalif, or the mysterious Mouw Awa the Manjackle, or Adoulla’s friends Dawoud Son-of-Wajeed and his wife Litaz Daughter-of-Likami, but you need to experience it. You need to pick up this book and read it, for the pure pleasure of discovering something new that is so difficult to do these days.

Is the book perfect? No. It took me a little while to get used to the attitudes of the young characters to the older ones and vice versa, but it was purely because it was such a different concept of respect than is usually the default in fantasy, not with the actual writing. This is not a “show respect to get respect” society that you find yourself immersed in; this is an “I am due respect and you will show it, or else” world. There is action, there is adventure, there is horror, and there is romance, but it is all tinted with that little bit of a different prism than the average reader is used to. And again, in my opinion, it is those differences that make for a more enjoyable read.

I do not do reviews with stars. By now, if I have done my self-appointed job, you should be able to tell if I enjoyed the book. But just in case, here is a little hint: I did. A testament to that is the fact that I own both the hardback and the audio versions, just so I could listen in my car and while I work out. I’ve read the book twice and am currently listened to for the third time. Either way you chose to experience the book, it is enjoyable. But I will say that hearing the actual pronunciation on the audio opened up the story more to me.

And a quick note, if you would like a sample of Saladin Ahmed’s writing, go to his website http://www.saladinahmed.com. There you will find not only his blog but the first chapter to Throne of the Crescent Moon and several free stories from other worlds he has envisioned. And, you can also download a copy of his short stories from Amazon, Engraved on the Eye, which is a collection of short stories that tell of how the Doctor and Raseed first meet.

The book has been nominated for the 2013 Hugo Award for Best Novel and the 2012 Nebula Award for Best Novel. It was the winner of the 2013 Locus Award for Best First Novel.

Here are links to check it all out on Amazon…

Throne of the Crescent Moon (Crescent Moon Kingdoms)

Engraved on the Eye

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4 comments

  1. Great review! As much as I enjoyed the book the wait for the next one has been killing me. It’s a refreshing fantasy novel. Especially if you like Aladdin.

    1. Thanks Yeti! It really is a great book, and some of the hate that it has gotten has been completely unwarranted. It’s a great break from the conventional Knights and Wizards stuff out there, which, as much as I love that, can get old.

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