And here is my first reflection for the TwitterBooks Project (introduced here): A Throne of the Crescent Moon review. I’m not sure if I’ll stick with this format; we’ll see.
(Note: There was a bit of a hiccup with my blog, during which time it DISAPPEARED entirely because the company that hosted it went bankrupt and shut down without warning. This has been resolved, so I’m back online!)
Author’s Name: Saladin Ahmed
Twitter Handle: @saladinahmed
How Long I’ve Been Following on Twitter: About a year
Book Title: Throne of the Crescent Moon
Book Format: Audiobook via Audible, read by Phil Gigante
What I liked: People of color as protagonists, excellent female representation, manageable length, great dialogue, rapid world-building,
What I didn’t like: Resolution was tidier than I expected, denouement felt a little long.
Last year I read Saladin Ahmed’s very good collection of short stories, Engraved on the Eye (available for free in Kindle edition), and in one of the short stories the reader is introduced to ghoul hunter Adoulla Makhslood and his young dervish assistant, Raseed. These two are the main characters in Ahmed’s first novel, Throne of the Crescent Moon.
One thing I liked about this book right off the bat was that the characters have names like my own and the world they lived in was faintly familiar. Throne is a fantasy inspired by the old Arab Muslim world, and I grew up with an Arabic Muslim name in the Islamic faith; the spiritual language of these culturally religious characters was connected to a huge part of my own past.
As the story continued, I appreciated the quick world-building. A pet-peeve I have about a lot of fantasy is the pages-long descriptions of terrain, cuisine, castle walls, royal lineage, etc. I don’t require that level of detail in my story-telling – I don’t want that level of detail. I’ll skim over it if I have to, because I want to get back to the characters, the premise and the plot. I don’t know why Ahmed escaped getting bogged down by these things, but I’m grateful for it – and I certainly had a strong impression of what things looked, smelled and otherwise seemed like in the city of Dhamsawaat, in the land of The Crescent Moon Kingdoms.
Another point of appreciation for me is that like Engraved on the Eye, the female characters are well-written – not less thought-out than the male characters. As a woman, I can’t even express what a pleasure it was to have three female characters in a novel who were just amazing in their own ways. One is young, and the other two are probably in their 40s? Wow, an age range?! Imagine that. And none of them too holy to get mad and yell at somebody. And despite the fact that each of them is loved by a man (and each of the primary good male characters is loved by a woman) there’s not that creepy obsession of going on and on about their bodies and how beautiful they are.
A real strength of the book is the dialogue. Hearing it read by Phil Gigante – holy smokes, is he fantastic! – was a treat beyond treats. I often hit the 30-second rewind just to relish over the snark, barbs, leering, and praises the characters exchange in language barely veiled by formality. For example, a wealthy spell-maker named Yassir tells Litaz, also a spell-maker (but not wealthy):
“If I’m going to be praised sycophantically when my skill succeeds and called charlatan or witch when it fails, I’ll at least have some coin in the bargain, thank you very much. Should I bother telling you yet again that there are much handsomer places in the world for you than in that filthy alley with that gnarled husband of yours? Places where your unmatched skills and your more-vital-than-its years body would receive all the appreciation they deserve?”
I was really happy with this story. The writing is solid, the characters are interesting, the Crescent Moon Kingdoms hold much possibility. And I’m not the only one who thought it was good – this book was nominated for the prestigious Hugo (2013) and Nebula (2012) awards. So I’m really behind the times on this! But Ahmed is working on a sequel, which I plan to read as soon as it comes out. Who knows, maybe I will learn to *love* fantasy as a genre, after all.