Throne of the Crescent Moon is Saladin Ahmed first novel. The author was nominated for the Nebula and Campbell awards for his short stories. His debut was released back in February of this year and is the first book in a trilogy named The Crescent Moon Kingdoms. Throne is a sword and sorcery novel with a touch of Arabian Nights that will expand into 'higher' and larger scale epic Fantasy (taken from interviews).
The Crescent Moon Kingdoms, land of djenn and ghuls, Khalifs and killers, is on the brink of civil war. To make things worse, a series of brutal supernatural murders strikes at the heart of the Kingdoms. And it's up to Doctor Adoulla Makhslood to solve them.
"The last real ghul hunter in the great city of Dhamsawaat," Adoulla just wants a quiet cup of tea. But when an old flame's family is murdered, he is drawn back to the hunter's path. Recruiting old companions and new, Adoulla races against time--and struggles against his own misgivings--to discover a plot for the Throne of the Crescent Moon that threatens to turn Dhamsawaat, and the world itself, into a blood-soaked ruin.As you have supposed by now, the tale recounted in Throne of the Crescent Moon is taking place in a mid-eastern setting. It's not a fanciful and unearthly world infused with elements of that particular culture but an imaginative world digging its roots deep into the lore of the Middle East. From the names to the buildings depictions; from the food description to the preternatural beings inhabiting it, the world building connects together smoothly to create a great tapestry clearly reminiscent of these so called Thousand and One Nights, a fantastically brilliant execution of it.
Before long, there's magic involved into the mix. The boundaries of it are clearly drawn for the users dwelling into the human side of things while the ghuls are devious creations of more powerful and dreadful ancient fallen entities trying to recover power and some kind of life. One of the practitioner of a specific sort of sorcery found in Throne is Doctor Adoulla Makhslood (with the 'Arabic sounding', great naming scheme, it's a bliss in audiobook). The Doctor is a slightly stereotypical senior and proud citizen of Dhamsawaat, a bearded epicurean with a light plumpness contained in his white kaftan. From his tea sessions to his humorous ideologies confrontation with his young antagonistic pupil, the pious and lovable old man will assuredly charm you.
Following the Doctor, in the third person perspective like all the PoVs, and his witticism which find its way into every situation, grim or joyous is entertaining and touching. He surrounds himself with a young Dervish (some kind of friar) assistant, Raseed and old acquaintances, Litaz and Dawoud, alchemists, healers and wizards. The last two of them don't bring much novelty to the story but they serve their purpose really well. As for Raseed, I'm not so sure. He certainly is a good sidekick for the Doctor and is stepping up to the plate in battles with his swordplay but the author invested in him a deep devotion, which will be tried more often than not and a forbidden love story.
On the other side of this game of flirtatious affection is Zamia. The dedicated young girl is the last of her nomad tribe, a fierce lion-shaper who stumble upon the two main heroes and finds herself in need of help to satisfy her vengeful hunger. For the two youngsters, Ahmed wrote skilfully the part of teenagers but for both of them I eventually felt annoyed at some of their redundant reactions. I wouldn't cheer for them to the end but nonetheless, they were interesting enough to improve the threads of the tale they were part of.
From there I could even go farther in the analysis of such a full book for so few pages. The Djinns are simply hinted at and the Khalif and all his personnel guarding his city and enforcing his laws are clashing with rebel thieves under the leadership of the Falcon Prince. Typical? Some of it yes, however, they are actually greater than themselves, mostly so in the case of the Robin Hood of Dhamsawaat and his keen retort more than makes up for it.
Dhamsawaat. Cool name for a city, there's a flavor to it. I think Ahmed wanted us to feel how vivid it is and how grandiose and picturesque it could be to walk its streets. When I think about those streets and all the locales the various characters pass through, I realize that Saladin Ahmed is really gifted to immerse the reader into his creation.
Throne of the Crescent Moon is a book in three parts. The first is a quick rise of action where multiple compelling (and sometimes marginally annoying) characters are presented through some deeds and conversations while they present their nature. The second act is where the events resolve for a time, an aftermath shedding some lights on the life of the protagonists in the city. That part has intriguing moments, the investigation itself, but I also sensed some laxism with the characters relationship development. Hopefully, the third act brings the pace back to its former speed and the resolution is gratifying.
I haven't read any of Saladin Ahmed's shorts but I assume that they clearly permitted the author to try his hand at writing and the benefits show through his writing of Throne. Even though I would have liked a different pace and structure for that second act, the author has found his voice and now, he can push it beyond the limits of this first opus. I enjoyed myself at almost every moment.
There you have it. You may have the same reflex that I had when I saw this book coming out: "oh well, another Arabian Nights inspired sword and sorcery in a short time 'a la' The Emperor's Knife or The Desert of Souls". Not quite. It's a fast and satisfyingly enjoyable read and you shouldn't miss it. I tell you, go pick it up now!
Technically, I find the DAW cover really interesting. Great color choice and lettering and the most important, a very credible representation of the protagonists in action. The talented Jason Chan seems to have easily portrayed them from the well-described characters. The book stands at 274 pages and a nice looking map is included. As for the audiobook, Phil Gigante is splendid and it's where the names really come to life. The duration is 10 hours and 16 minutes.
Throne of the Crescent Moon review score :
Characterization............. 8.5 /10
World building............... 9 / 10
Magic system................. 7.5 / 10
Story.............................. 8.5 / 10
Writing........................... 9 / 10
Overall (not an average) 8.5 / 10
Saladin Ahmed page
Saladin Ahmed page