Throne of the Crescent Moon (Crescent Moon Kingdoms #1)
February 7, 2012 (Kindle Edition)
Blurb via Amazon.com:
From Saladin Ahmed, finalist for the Nebula and Campbell Awards, comes one of the year’s most anticipated fantasy debuts, Throne of the Crescent Moon, a fantasy adventure with all the magic of The Arabian Nights.
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 have my eye on a lot of books these days, but sometimes I have the bad habit of letting them just slip right by me as I wait to see what reactions to them will be. A few weeks ago (Has it been a few months, actually, now? Feels like it!), The Book Smugglers highlighted this year’s Hugo Awards in a post with their predictions and so this title once again pinged my radar. Confession time: I really don’t tend to go out of my comfort zones with reading. Maybe that’s not actually a shocker, but when I originally noticed this book last year, I tagged it as one outside said comfort zone and was determined to try it. While I have no problem, per say, with the Middle Eastern style setting, I do tend to gravitate towards more traditionally-set Medieval-esque fantasies. What can I say, this girl has never grown bored watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy for the upteen-millionth time. But when I saw the Smugglers’ post, I knew it was the right time to finally step out of my fair-haired elvish box. I was really glad I did.
It’s been a while now since I read the book, but what has remained with me is how entertaining the book was, how much I enjoyed the characters, and how much I came to appreciate a fantasy setting so far removed from what I’m used to. That being said, there were a few things that niggled, but the book was actually far more easy to enjoy than it was for those niggles to take precedence. Yay for non-niggling reading influences!
I have to start with one of the main characters, Doctor Adoulla Makhslood and identify him as my favorite of the bunch, though the entire cast is interesting and fun in their own ways. I must admit part of my reasoning for enjoying Adoulla so much is his advancing age, and therefore his struggles to maintain the energy, stamina and effectiveness in his job as the only ghul hunter left in existence. Though people of Adoulla’s talents and fellowship know such foul creatures exist – similar to zombies but with this book’s world’s own unique twists – the rest of the world goes about its business as if they’re merely myth and legend. I was immediately drawn into this book thanks to Adoulla’s struggles to balance the necessity of his talents with the yearning for a retirement that would reward all his years of hard service to his beloved city, Dhamsawwaat. It doesn’t help that being a ghul huter has to be one of the most thankless jobs in the world. He’s managed to save up enough money over the years, though, and his home is his pride and joy in a city that, while renowned for its beauty, still houses plenty of desperate and poor people who are under the rule of a careless leader. Readers will see Adoulla struggle with why he bothers to go on doing what he does, while also understanding why he cannot help but do so. Along the way, we learn all this through Adoulla’s jovial, carefree views that almost always manage to surface through some very hard and trying times.
Almost directly opposed to Adoulla character in some ways is the much younger, fit and devout Raseed, who is Adoulla’s student in the arts of ghul hunting. The apprentice or sidekick, so to speak. He too harbors his own inner struggles while learning from his exasperating master, determined to remain on the true path of his order, the Order of Dervishes, while also trying to balance issues and situations that go directly against those beliefs. For him, the world is black and white, but the longer he’s with the doctor and their merry band of misfits, the more he sees things in those proverbial shades of grey. There were times I wholeheartedly agreed with this description of him from the doctor’s POV:
Raseed knew his mentor still considered him to be a “genius of the sword but a idiot of the street.” as the Doctor, quoting some poet, had once put it.
– pg. 39, location 583
There are times when the doctor doesn’t give Raseed nearly enough credit either. But Raseed can be quick to leap before thinking, and there were times his lack of experience was frustrating. He cares about the doctor, though, which is evident in numerous ways such as:
Raseed hoped it would please God to bring this good if flawed man back to his city soon.
– pg. 39, location 590
He tries his best to understand the doctor.
Raseed goes on to form his biggest relationship with a young girl (though old enough for marriage in the book’s world), Zamia, who possesses a certain useful talent that I’d rather not specifically identify. It’s not really a spoiler but it’s probably still more fun if reader’s discover it for themselves. Anyway, she and Raseed do this awkward romantic dance the whole book through, and it wasn’t rally my cup. I say this was his biggest relationship because it seemed as if they could barely go a few pages without some mention of this awkwardly budding romance. In some ways, the book is repetitive like that, but fortunately the interesting points far outweighed that. Zamia is at least a strong female character who manages to forge her own way through the book. I just had to concentrate on the factors that made her so instead of romantic angle that felt forced more than anything.
Other characters of note are Adoulla’s deearest and closest friends, a married couple by the names of Dawoud and Litaz, who also possess supernatural talents. They add that element of friendship and support that’s handy to have around for when the plot goes dark for the good guys. Even they have their struggles for the reader to examine, most notably being their similarity to Adoulla in that they are getting older and feeling the burden of such a dangerous life. They wish to retire and return to a more relaxed life, yet they too are torn between that and doing one last good deed for mankind…even if it could be their last deed of any kind.
And then there’s Pharaad Az Hammaz, or the Falcon Prince as he’s usually referred to as. He’s the book’s Robin Hood, and he does basically what Robin Hood does – thieving for the good of the community.
The man had stolen a great deal from the coffers of the Khalif and rich merchants, and much of that found its way into the hands of Dhamsawwaat’s poorest – sometimes hand delivered by the Falcon Prince himself.
– pg. 8, location 142
He gives much to the poor, but he’s also got a hidden agenda that eventually crashes with that of Adoulla and his friends. I enjoyed his contributions to the plot, but he was probably the least stand out character for me.
The writing style is this old school-ish way that other bloggers have referred to as similar to Arabian Nights. I’ve never read Arabian Nights, but you too will know what that means if and when you’ve read even a sample of the book. It’s a very distinct style and it’s probably either going to get tiresome after a while – or not! I actually enjoyed the style a lot and feel like it does a lot to help build up the world. The worldbuilding itself is otherwise a bit sparse. While you get a superb sense of a Middle Eastern city that’s crowded, full of all kinds of life and gritty and just about as real as you could wish for an imaginary city to come be in your mind, it’s a little lacking in the fantastical side. Characters like Adoulla, Raseed and Zamia have supernatural powers, and we’re treated to magical talents from Dawoud, a supernatural strength and sword-wielding ability from Raseed (he refers to himself a time of two as a sword of God), but as far as the actual physical attributes of the world, it’s what you might expect a Middle Eastern city to be like. I suppose I’d hoped for a more fantastical feel to it as well. That being said, again, the city felt so alive while reading this and I appreciated the author’s talent in engaging me with it.
What the book did exceptionally well for me, though, was to be continually entertaining. I was never once bored by the plot and the characters all had something unique to their development that I enjoyed. There’s this Indiana Jones-ish style of epic adventure to it all, so I suppose that’s one reason I enjoyed it so well. There’s lots of laugh-out-loud and snort-worthy moments and the noted “bad guy” provided just enough resistance to the protagonists to make it more interesting. I just enjoyed this one a lot and as a result have been continuing to hunt for any info I can find on the next book in the series, which unfortunately is little to nothing at the moment. But I have kept thinking about this one and how much I enjoyed it. Following that with an urge to bookmark/favorite/like any mention of the next book is the best compliment I can think to grant this first book.