Throne of the Crescent Moon is the debut novel by American writer Saladin Ahmed, and the first book in The Crescent Moon Kingdoms series. I’ve had this one on my TBR pile for a while now, and it’s been staring at me, all that time, from my bookshelves, telling me to read it.
Doctor Adoulla Makhslood is a ghul hunter, but he’s getting up there in age and his body isn’t what it used to be. He’s looking forward to retire in his beloved city of Dhamsawaat and spend the rest of his days drinking delicious teas and enjoying the company of friends. But he knows a peaceful life isn’t for those in his profession: he’ll be fighting ghuls until he’s dead. Adoulla and his devout assistant Raseed go ghul hunting after they find out a village of marsh dwellers has been slaughtered, but they aren’t prepared for what they end up getting entangled in. Something worse than regular ghuls is threatening Dhamsawaat. He recruits his old friends, Litaz the alkhemist and husband Dawoud whose magic is fuelled by his own life force. They are also joined by Badawi tribeswoman Zamia, whose band has been murdered by the same seemingly unstoppable force. Together they must navigate the magical, and the political, for there’s civil war brewing in Dhamsawaat.
I enjoyed this book very much. I like to immerse myself in non-Western Euro-centric fantasy worlds, and the world that these people live in is an interesting one. It’s based on Middle-Eastern myths, and though different, somehow managed to feel familiar as well. Dhamsawaat is also both different and familiar. Who doesn’t know the great feeling of hanging out with ones friends drinking delicious tea? And who doesn’t know the anxiety of watching two (or more) ideologies clashing in politics?
While I have admit to rolling my eyes whenever Raseed quoted scripture (though I think that’s what Saladin intended), the way the other characters followed the words of god was inspiring. It showed that slavish devotion to holy words sometimes achieves nothing, or can be used to mistreat others. Though all of them had their own hopes and dreams, their own skills and faults, and their own way of honouring god, all of them tried to do what’s right, to help their fellow people. And isn’t that what religion should be all about? Still, Raseed’s struggle with his teachings and workings of the real world was written well, and I hope to see where his journey takes him.
I absolutely loved Litaz and Dawoud’s relationship. It was so believable, and so tender; I instantly believed they’d been together for years. Their Soo backgrounds intrigue me, and I hope to get to know more about the Red River Soo and the Blue River Soo. Dawoud’s condition is a horrible thing, and yet it shows how much he cares. Not just for his friends, but also for complete strangers. He will use his magic to save people, to heal people, even though it costs him weeks, months, sometimes even years of his life. To be around the same ages as your wife and best friend, but to be and look so much older physically? It must be hell.
Zamia gets to have the coolest power of all of the characters, which I will not spoil for you. It’s a power that many would wish to have, though it would also frighten a lot of people, I suppose. Her interest in Raseed and his interest in her were written well, although I do wonder how much of her interest in Raseed is because she wants, or needs, to continue the legacy of her slaughtered Badawi band. I’ll just have to wait and see, I suppose.
The story itself was gripping, even during the ‘down times’, as we not only get a taste of what would happen to the city if there weren’t good people to defend it, but we also see the strife between the Khalif and the Falcon Prince. Is the Khalif a bad man? Does he deserve to be dethroned? Is the Falcon Prince truly as much as a Robin Hood character as we want to believe? Can corruption be purged from politics and religion for once and for all? Will anything ever change? These are questions that I kept asking myself, some even up to the end of the book. I like it when things aren’t always so black and white.
I’m looking forward to the sequel.