Review: “Throne of the Crescent Moon,” Saladin Ahmed

Pros: Unusual tale
Cons: Some pacing issues
Rating: 4 out of 5

Throne of the Crescent Moon is book one of Saladin Ahmed’s Crescent Moon Kingdoms series. It’s also Ahmed’s first novel, and I don’t often see such well-executed first novels. I love that it isn’t set in the traditional type of fantasy setting. The world is rich and detailed and was easy to picture in my mind.

I also enjoyed the ensemble cast of characters. Adoulla–a ghul hunter–might most easily be seen as the main character, but the others get their point-of-view sections too, so it isn’t a hard line. Adoulla is getting on in years, he’s fat, and the only thing stopping him from retiring is the fact that there’s almost no one left of his order, meaning if he stops, ghuls and those who make them will go largely unchecked. His young partner/apprentice (Raseed) is a dervish, there to help with the physical parts of the job, particularly those that require a sword. Unfortunately, Raseed has no potential for Adoulla’s invocation-heavy style of ghul-hunting, and both are needed. The pair end up taking in an Angel-touched tribal girl who can turn into a lion–but who lost her tribe to the ghuls. Then, as things escalate, Adoulla joins up with two old friends who use to hunt with him when he was younger and more fit.

The ghul-maker is clearly more powerful than any one Adoulla has hunted before–he can create and control more ghouls at once than he should be able to. Adoulla and Raseed are taxed to their limits trying to protect themselves and their friends. If they can’t find out who’s doing this–and quickly–the city’s streets will run red with blood. Mixed up in all of this is a cruel Khalif and a Robin Hood-like ‘prince’ who steals from the rich and gives to the poor.

 

Unlike some of the recent books I’ve read, there are no Mary Sues here. Everyone has their faults, and the characters have to work hard for what they earn. Not to mention, things don’t always work out in their favor, and they don’t have people falling in love with them at the drop of a hat. They make mistakes, and amble along trying to do their best just like anyone else. The older crowd (Adoulla and his old friends) are perfectly capable of being silly and childish when they want to, much like real adults (but not so much like adults that you see in most fantasy novels). It’s a great change of pace. Short form: the characters in Throne of the Crescent Moon are delightful.

There is an odd parallel story going on throughout the whole thing in which some otherwise unknown man is being tortured to some nebulous end. It’s quite dark, but that isn’t what bugged me. The problem is that it’s broken apart into just a few small pieces, and then scattered in the book with huge chunks of other machinations going on in-between. When I got to the second part, I had to go back and re-read the first one because the rest of the book had distracted me enough that I had totally forgotten that this odd scene was even in the book at all. It does eventually come into focus in a rather clever way, however.

There’s a little bit of a tendency to over-explain things, but it isn’t that bad. The middle of the book is also less action-oriented than the first part seemed to set up, which made the middle feel a tad slow. Both of these are things that frankly, would usually be much worse in a first novel. Ahmed has done quite well here. Anyway, it builds up to a properly tense and harried finale, one that leaves me wanting to know what happens next, but feeling satisfied enough by the story so far.

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