Thursday, March 29, 2012
Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed
Every year it seems that there’s a huge buzz around one debut novelist and their work. In 2012 the novelist is Saladin Ahmed and the book is Throne of the Crescent Moon. Although Throne of the Crescent Moon is his first novel, Saladin Ahmed isn’t an entirely new name in the SFF field, his short work garnered him a nomination for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 2010 and 2011.
To be totally honest I was probably always a lock for Throne of the Crescent Moon from the first time I heard about it and saw Jason Chan’s awesome cover (it displays the three main protagonists; Adoulla, Raseed and Zamia, and does so faithfully, right down to Raseed’s two pronged sword, although I never really saw Adoulla as an overweight balding Moses, which is what he looks like here), and then found out it was Arabian Nights in tone and theme. I love Arabian Nights flavoured stuff. I think it’s a tragically under utilised setting and mythology in SFF. I was also interested and pleased to see Saladin Ahmed list Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman amongst his influences in a recent exchange on i09. Weis and Hickman are best known for their Dragonlance work, but my favourite, and in my opinion, best work was their Rose of the Prophet trilogy which was also very Arabian Nights in tone and setting. So Saladin was always on a winner with me for Throne of the Crescent Moon.
Adoulla is an aging ghul hunter based in his beloved city of Dhamsawaat, Adoulla believes he’s the only genuine ghul hunter in the city, it’s possible he’s the only real one in all the Kingdoms of the Crescent Moon. Life isn’t getting any easier for the scholar and he’s starting to consider retirement. Maybe hand the business over to his deeply religious ‘apprentice’ Dervish Raseed. Then Adoulla can spend his days drinking cardamom tea in his friend Yehyeh’s tea shop and woo Miri, the ‘one that got away’.
However things rarely go as planned in Adoulla’s long and eventful life, and before too many pages have passed Raseed has uncovered a new and particularly vicious threat, that will not only cause problems for Adoulla and his friends and neighbours, but the entire city of Dhamsawaat unless it is tracked down and defeated.
Doing this will bring Adoulla and Raseed in contact with the fierce young tribeswoman Zamia, who has lost her clan to the threat, it will destroy Adoulla’s home, put his friends and neighbours, the Soo couple; Dawoud and Lizat in danger and introduce them all to the annoyingly charismatic and competent thief lord; the Falcon Prince.
This is a real swashbuckler and an absolute joy to read. Saladin Ahmed does not miss a beat with his characterisation or his setting. Adoulla initially put me in mind of Barry Hughart’s flawed Asian scholar and detective Master Li, but as I read on I started thinking he was more like Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden, he has that same world weariness and complete and total lack of respect for authority, like Butcher’s Wizard for Hire he does a nice line in snark, too, although delivered in the very lyrical style that the book is written in. Adoulla’s is also middle-aged, which is a refreshing change of pace from the oh so young heroes that generally people the pages of SFF novels. He has Raseed and Zamia to do that for him. Like Scott Lynch in his debut The Lies of Locke Lamora, Saladin Ahmed builds up his setting of Dhamsawaat lovingly and it comes to life through the pages, you can feel the midday heat and the evening cool, smell the spices and the stench from the tannery that wafts through the down at heel Scholar’s Quarter on a daily basis. Like Lynch’s Camorr, Ahmed’s Dhamsawaat is an extra bonus character for readers.
I thoroughly enjoyed Throne of the Crescent Moon and look forward to seeing more tales of this middle eastern world. My only complaint is that the book was too short and I’ll have to wait a while before I can visit Dhamsawaat again.