“Hey, so I found this book you might like. It’s called Throne of the Crescent Moon. It’s a fantasy book, but it takes place in an Islamic-Middle Eastern society. Also, one chick can turn into a lion and it’s pretty awesome.”
This is more or less what I told a Muslim friend of mine after I’d finished reading the first book of Saladin Ahmed’s Crescent Moon Kingdoms series. However, I think it’s a good reason for non-Muslims to read it as well.
I picked the book up on a whim because the front cover was cool looking, and the blurb on the back promised an interesting story. I’m also a sucker for Arabian Nights-style stories, which may be largely because Disney’s Aladdin was my favourite movie as a kid.
But I digress.
The book takes place in the city of Dhamsawaat, where ghul-hunter Doctor Adoulla Makhslood finds that he’s getting too old to face the dangers of his job. However, there is no rest for him, as a recent ghul attack thrusts him and his partner, Raseed bas Raseed, into further dangers. Matters become more pressing as Adoulla and Raseed, along with Dawoud and Litaz—old friends of Adoulla’s, a magus and an alkhemist, respectfully—and Zamia Banu Laith Badawi—an Angel-touched girl who transforms into a lioness—must face an evil sorcerer who could cause the Kingdoms to descend into chaos. And all of this is going smack in the middle of political strife as the mysterious Falcon Prince seeks to overthrow the corrupt Khalif.
It’s a fantastic world of swords and sorcery, and the characters are really the heart of the whole thing. Adoulla is a ridiculous old man, often blatantly rude, but don’t let that make you think he’s not a total badass. The man smites foul beasts for a living in the name of God. His dervish sidekick Raseed is a powerful ally, especially armed with his forked sword, but he struggles with his desire to do good by his order. Zamia, though seeking vengeance for her murdered band, is equally as complex. And she turns into a lion. Which is awesome.
The other characters are wonderfully imagined as well. Dawoud, though burdened by his magic, is a strong ally and trustworthy friend. His wife Litaz may not have magic, but she’s clever and skilled in her own right. The Falcon Prince is charming rogue. The villains are mysterious and intimidating. Even the side characters have distinct things about them that make you want to know more.
Throne of the Crescent Moon has a lot of great qualities to it. Equal parts drama, action, and comedy drive the story forward. The characters are wonderfully complex. Though Ahmed plays the “love at first sight” card (I won’t tell you on whom), the budding romance is actually very sweet and entertaining. The world is interesting and it begs more expansion. Anyone who has done research on the Middle East will see a lot of cultural aspects cleverly realized, especially in regards to religion and mythology.
Throne of the Crescent Moon has garnered quite a bit of attention based on the fact that it’s not set in a counter-part to medieval Europe, like so many fantasies are. I think this is a good thing for it. I know there are some who feel different, but I’m personally way more interested in the Golden Age of Arabia than the Dark Ages. Plus, you can only read so many medieval fantasies before you want some variety.
“But wait!” you might cry. “If this book takes place in a fictional Islamic country, don’t they talk about God a lot?”
Well, yes. And the thing about any story where God is frequently discussed is that it runs the risk of getting preachy. It takes a good author to avoid that, and Saladin Ahmed does it well. Religion is heavily integrated into this world, but it comes off very naturally. Even when characters are quoting the “Heavenly Chapters,” the dialogue doesn’t seem stilted or preachy. A scripture quote comes across more like a comforting platitude you might hear after having a bad day.
And Adoulla usually interrupts a few of them anyway.
Aside from this, you might need to look up what a dervish actually is.
The only real issue I have with Ahmed’s writing is that he can be rather repetitive at times. This is more noticeable at the beginning of the book and wanes as the story continues. I believe he mentions Adoulla’s spotless, moonlight white kaftan several times in a single chapter and some of Raseed and Zamia’s thoughts do tend to play on repeat. It doesn’t take away from the story at all, but it was one thing I noticed.
I truly recommend this book to any lover of fantasy. Go and pick it up.
And then sit with me in frustration as we wait for the sequel to be released.