Monday, January 30, 2012

Throne of The Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Order “Throne of the Crescent MoonHERE
Read chapter one HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Saladin Ahmed was born and brought up in Detroit, Michigan. He has a MFA in Creative Writing from Brooklyn College and an MA in English from Rutgers University. Previously he has taught University level creative writing courses for over ten years. He has been a finalist for the Nebula Award for Best Short Story, the Campbell Award for Best New Science Fiction or Fantasy Writer, and the Harper’s Pen Award for best Sword and Sorcery/Heroic Fantasy Short Story. His short fiction has also appeared in magazines and podcasts including Strange Horizons, Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Apex Magazine, StarShipSofa and PodCastle. He currently lives with his wife & twin children in a suburb of Detroit, this is his debut.
OFFICIAL BLURB: The Crescent Moon Kingdoms, land of djenn and ghuls, holy warriors and heretics, Khalifs and killers, is 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. It is up to a handful of heroes to learn the truth behind these killings:

Doctor Adoulla Makhslood, "The last real ghul hunter in the great city of Dhamsawaat," just wants a quiet cup of tea. Three score and more years old, he has grown weary of hunting monsters and saving lives, and is more than ready to retire from his dangerous and demanding vocation. But when an old flame's family is murdered, Adoulla is drawn back to the hunter's path.

Raseed bas Raseed, Adoulla's young assistant, a hidebound holy warrior whose prowess is matched only by his piety, is eager to deliver God's justice. But even as Raseed's sword is tested by ghuls and manjackals, his soul is tested when he and Adoulla cross paths with the tribeswoman Zamia.

Zamia Badawi, Protector of the Band, has been gifted with the near-mythical angelic power, but shunned by her people for daring to take up a man's title. She lives only to avenge her tribe's death. Until she learns that Adoulla and his allies also hunt the same killer. Until she meets Raseed.

When they learn that the murders and the Falcon Prince's brewing revolution are connected, the companions must race against time--and struggle against their own misgivings--to save the life of a vicious despot. In so doing they discover a plot for the Throne of the Crescent Moon that threatens to turn Dhamsawaat, and the world itself, into a blood-soaked ruin.

CLASSIFICATION: The Crescent Moon Kingdom series is a Arabian themed Sword & Sorcery series which combines the swashbuckling adventure aspect of the One Thousand and One Nights with rich prose and efficient characterization to give the reader a new series to be enamored of.

FORMAT/INFO: Throne of the Crescent Moon is 274 pages long divided over twenty numbered chapters and three numbered but untitled interludes. Narration is in the third person via Doctor Adoulla Makhslood, Raseed bas Raseed, Zamia Banu Laith Badawi as the major POV characters while Lady Litaz Daughter-of-Likami and Dawoud Son-of-Wajeed are the minor POV characters. There is a map of the crescent Kingdoms present along with an author acknowledgements page. Throne of the Crescent Moon is the first book in the Crescent Moon Kingdoms series.

February 7, 2012 marks the North American Hardback and e-book publication of Throne of the Crescent Moon via DAW. Cover art is provided by Jason Chan.

ANALYSIS: I was first introduced to Saladin Ahmed’s writing when his short story “HOOVES AND THE HOVEL OF ABDEL JAMEELA” from the anthology Clockwork Phoenix 2, was featured on our blog. It was a story which particularly mined the rare Arabic mythological landscape and with Saladin’s background, it was easy to notice why it was so strong a story. That was nearly three years ago. Last year it came to my notice that his Sword and Sorcery novel was debuting early in 2012 and I wanted to see what his imagination had created.

The world of the Crescent Moon Kingdoms while drawing upon certain middle Eastern kingdoms of yore is also unique enough to draw the reader in. While the map definitely shows off a nice landscape, not much of it is revealed in the first volume & so it is left as a tantalizing presence of future wonders to be read (a B/W version can be viewed here). It should be interesting to see how the author populates and displays the lands drawn within. The story of this book focuses upon Dhamsawaat, the great city of Abassen which is considered to be the crown jewel amongst all the cities. It is this very city which doctor Adoulla Makhslood calls home; he is one of the last few of a revered clan. The clan of Ghul Hunters which is already lost most of its members to those very nemeses with whom they spar with. The prime thing about a true Ghul hunter is his shining white kaftan that refuses to catch any dirt until the particular Ghul hunter loses his standards or absolves himself of the vows. In the current day Adoulla is particularly fascinated by his past as he contemplates it over a cup of cardamom tea. His reminiscing is disturbed by a uniquely disturbing vision wherein he sees his beloved city overrun by Ghuls. Things soon take a further downward turn when his assistant/partner the young Dervish Raseed bas Raseed brings him a child survivor of a Ghul attack and one whose familial connections make it particularly difficult for Adoulla to avoid not getting involved.

On learning the details of the ghul attack and as per their duty, they ride towards the attack spot only to learn that what awaits them, is something unheard of. They also come upon a tribal girl with special powers of her own, Zamia is the girl on the hunt herself to avenge her tribe. Fortunately they return to the city and find it in more of a upheaval due to the actions of Pharaad Az Hammaz, the Falcon Prince who is a Robin Hood like figure fighting against the oppressive rule of the Khalif. Set in the powder keg of the city wherein political fighting masks the danger presented by the unknown Ghul master who is looking to topple the natural order of things. It will be up to Adoulla and his allies to choose a side within the political battle and find out the mystery of the Ghul Hunter as well the source of the power that the hunter covets.

This debut was something special to read about as instead of the usual medieval fantasy fare, the author has created a slightly unique scenario which really stands out amidst the debut fantasy field. The prose is praiseworthy as the author brings life to this remarkable world and the reader is easily transported to the dusty haven of the Crescent Moon Kingdoms. The characterization is also above the ordinary as the author does his best to fully showcase the characters and the dilemmas they face. The character cast features a wide array of characters who range from the various fantasy stereotypes of the young valiant warrior, old world-weary wizard, wild tribal girl, Old allies, etc. but the author superbly subverts these by bringing these characters to life via their POV chapters. You feel Adoulla’s resignation to his fate, Raseed’s devotion to his craft, Zamia’s single minded vengeance and the Falcon Prince’s enigmatic omniscient ways. All of this and much more is to be found in this slim volume which while being a series opener, gives a well rounded tale with a complete ending of sorts (of course with the promise of more to follow). The cover art by Jason Chan is also stunning and follows the pattern of that of The Codex Alera series by Jim Butcher by being a part of the actual story within.

The book's infectious energy & pace also help in making the pages fly faster and hence the reader will want to read it in as few breaks as possible. The author’s passion in presenting this tale is very much felt through out these pages as while this book shares certain milieu characteristics with The Desert of Souls by Howard Andrew Jones and Rose of The Prophet trilogy by Margaret Weis & T. Hickman. It far outstrips these two and other books in this niche by bringing a certain je ne sais quoi to its subject matter which could be due to the author’s own genealogy or simply because the author wanted to write a different type of medieval fantasy set in a geographical location which is usually caricatured. Whatever be the reason, the end result is that this book is definitely a special debut because of the excellence shown in the departments of prose, characterization & plot matter.

Thoughts of the dissenting kind aren't to be found as I thoroughly enjoyed this read. Maybe I could fault the book for being a bit too compact or not really expanding on the magic & world scenario beyond what is told in the story. However these couple of drawbacks aren't really that big a deal and I think it shouldn't be a deterrent for enjoying the book. The book’s size is definitely on the thinner side and this might be going against the norm seen in current fantasy scenario wherein the breadth of the spine is thought to be a plus point. This however doesn’t make it any less excellent as the book in its compact avatar, packs a very strong punch. The magic system as well the world history is given out rather sparsely and perhaps could have been explained a bit more. This however is a dicey matter and one which almost always causes consternation among readers as there's no perfect ratio to be found.

CONCLUSION: Saladin Ahmed debuts his take on Sword & Sorcery tales and it is a particular fascinating one. Throne of the Crescent Moon is definitely going to be in my year end list and will be remembered by many as a smashing, exciting debut. I would encourage all readers to give it a try as Saladin is definitely an author to watch for. Grab the Throne of the Crescent Moon and lose yourself in this alluring tale.

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