After promising Saladin that I’ll be reviewing the book within a week of its coming out, I stand ashamed that it took me this long to get to it. Probably the reason was that in spite of all the acclaim I had heard heaped on it, I knew in my heart that ‘Throne of the Crescent Moon’ is still an out and out ‘Sword And Sorcery’ fantasy genre novel and I had made a conscious decision to stay away from genre novels. But now that I have just finished reading it, I have to admit that I am reminded of why I love the fantasy genre above all others. It is because authors like Saladin can bring alive characters and situations and bathe them in all the fantastic magic imaginable and still make them all appear so real and so part of our world. The world-weariness of the fat old codger with the big belly, Doctor Adoulla Makhslood and the internal conflicts of the scrawny zealot, Raseed and the other quirks of every character speaks directly to us and the characters come alive in vivid detail, especially since the author takes care to not spare us the coarser details as well.
There is a level of perfection in Ahmed’s style and narration that you can feel in every page. A tight, well polished reserve in the choice of words and in the slow construction of the plot. The plot is in reality not of central importance in the book. Ahmed spends more than three-quarters of the book developing his characters, making us inhabiting the heads of various characters as they travel about the city of Dhamsawaat, using these quiet spaces to put in vast details about the inner life of these characters and the outer complexity of the fictional city and its teeming complex life
Unfortunately, this strength of the book is also its weakness. The final climax can only be called anti-climactic in its lack of devoted pages as well as the lack of action, not to mention the lack of any real feeling of conclusion. There is no explanation provided for the existence of the evil they are battling or for the reason of its existence. I do not want to go into plot details here, but the fact that this is the first in the series should not be an excuse for so little to happen in the book. The characters are developed and primed for a series and the world-building is detailed and complete but the sense of anticipation or of denouement that would draw one back to a series or make one wait eagerly for the next edition is sadly lacking.
But then, as Ahmed makes clear in the last musings of Adoulla, this book was perhaps not intended to be an epic with world-changing climaxes and thundering, sky-splitting battles. Maybe the world-weariness and resignation of Adoulla is also the premise of the book – To remind us that no matter what you achieve, life still goes on with all the challenges still there, undiminished and after the night celebrating your greatest achievement, the next day again dawns and you have to trudge on.
If you are a fantasy fan who has been mourning the superficiality that permeates the genre and is on the lookout for a reflective and quiet but rich and satisfying read, this might be worth picking up. Don’t let the religious overtones and the constant allusions to God and the ‘Avenging Angel’ put you off too much, those are just a part of the magic world the characters inhabit and the book is not trying to convey any religious messages. The invocations from the Holy Book etc., serve as spells in Ahmed’s world and all are weapons of God in a drawn out struggle against the forces of evil which might reach an epic conclusion in some future book in the series. In fact, these religious allusions help in adding texture and credibility to the deeply arabic experience that Ahmed is trying to create. This adds to the rich Arabian atmosphere and the originality with which a glorious Muslim kingdom is painted along with the language, the addresses and the mannerisms will all provide for an authentic 12th Century Arabian Nights like experience.
For a debut author, Saladin Ahmed shows exceptional mastery of his craft and this book is unlikely to disappoint any serious reader who is looking for a bit more than a few swords slashing and spells misfiring. If nothing else, this book was a tuition class in plot and character development by Ahmed, maybe as a practical example to aid the people he helps through his Novel Critiques ad commentaries. This series and the world that Ahmed has created definitely has the potential to develop into something amazing. The groundwork has been lain in this first book and here is hoping that Saladin Ahmed manages to build a grand castle on it soon.
- A veteran monster-hunter faces one last challenge, in an excerpt from Saladin Ahmed’s fantasy debut [Book Excerpt] (io9.com)
- The Big Idea: Saladin Ahmed (whatever.scalzi.com)
- A Ghul Hunter Longing For Cardamom Tea: Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed (tor.com)
- [books] Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed (jlake.com)
- Arrival (fantasyinmotion.wordpress.com)
- Fantasy Middle Eastern Style In Throne of the Crescent Moon (DAW Book, 2012) (themalaysianreader.com)
- Fantasy in Review: Saladin Ahmed’s “Throne of the Crescent Moon” (infinite-ammo.net)
- Book Review: Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed (blogcritics.org)
- Saladin Ahmed and “The Throne of the Crescent Moon” (omnivoracious.com)
- Thoughts So Far: ‘Throne of the Crescent Moon’ (fantasyinmotion.wordpress.com)
- Throne of the Crescent Moon is the best fantasy swashbuckler of the year so far [Book Review] (io9.com)