Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

Throne of the Crescent Moon, by Saladin Ahmed.

Published by Gollancz, January 2013. Review copy received.

288 pages

ISBN: 978 0 575 13291 7

Review by Mark Yon

Rob reviewed this one on its release in the US. He was pretty enthusiastic about it, so I was very pleased when I got chance to read this one myself.

Crescent Moon taps into an area of Fantasy that seems to have fallen out of favour in recent years. With the genre’s concentration on Western pseudo-Medieval type tales, the ancient Arabian Nights type tales, based less on European culture, is ripe for revisiting.

There’s certainly enough here. We have Kingdoms, rebellion, canny thieves and honourable heroes, combined with mystical supernatural elements. It reminded me of those Arabian stories from Weird Tales in the 1930’s, but with a contemporary re-imagining. 

And it is imaginative.

Adoulla Makshood is a ghul-slayer, a old man in the ancient city of Dhamsawaat who has spent his life protecting the city dwellers from supernatural evil. Mysterious deaths around the city and strange dreams of rivers of blood seem to suggest that something unusually powerful is trying to enter the city. At the same time, his ex-sweetheart asks him to investigate the death of her niece, in a murder that may be supernaturally based. The city generally is restless. The unpopular Khalif is resorting to harsher and harsher punishments to maintain civil order whilst the popular subversive, The Falcon King, harries and mocks the Khalif whilst helping the poor against the rich.

Whilst Adoulla and his assistant Raseed are fighting ghuls outside the city, they find a female shape-changer, Zamia, who is the last survivor of her band (tribe) after being attacked by some ancient and most powerful enemy. Adoulla is attacked and Zamia is injured, so badly that Abdoulla returns to the city and obtains help from old friends Litaz and Dawoud.

Together they fight against an ancient evil, now escaped and returning for vengeance – an entity that is determined to destroy the city and the Kingdoms.    

Readers will recognise many elements of this story. The characters here are perhaps the best part, as they are quickly engaged with and soon warmed to. Adoulla is the wise old man, doing a difficult job beyond his prime, who is counterbalanced by the young devout Raseed, supremely skilled in fighting, yet often embarrassingly naive. Around them we have long-time allies, Litaz the high-born alchemist and her protective husband, Dawoud, and people who need Adoulla’s aid, fierce Zamia the young band survivor, the last of her tribe who is searching for vengeance, and Miri Almoussa, Adoulla’s  ex-lover and old flame who wants to know how her niece died. Their dialogue and the way they work together is an exemplary study of relationships, both new and old and the tough decisions people make in their lives – for love, for duty, for respect and for loyalty.

It is clear there are dark supernatural forces at work, and the current Khalif (king) is incapable of listening to the threat, never mind dealing with the horror when it does happen. The threat is quite creepy and the supernatural ghuls, in various forms, are both formidable and challenging.  The action scenes are very well written, both exciting and fast-paced.

It should then be no surprise how quickly the pages turned on this one. It is a brief novel but has a deep back-story that other tales will no doubt tell. The book manages that tricky balance of both combining what, to many readers, will be new elements, without sacrificing the pace nor the plot. The established characters clearly know each other well and have worked together many times before, something not easy to establish in a first novel.  

In talks of gods and religion, ancient evils and older spells, Saladin has tapped into the well-stone of good old-fashioned storytelling in an old established setting of ancient Arabia. This is Arabian Nights meets Clark Ashton Smith but with less purple prose and more adventurous actions.

For those who want an engaging and exciting tale in a timeless environment, filled with the romanticism of ancient worlds and a touch of the unreal, this is a recommended read. I enjoyed it enormously.

Mark Yon, October 2012.

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