Sunday 3 July 2016

#CBR8 Book 64: "Throne of the Crescent Moon" by Saladin Ahmed

Page count: 304 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

Resorting to the blurb for a plot summary, because I need to get my reviews up to date, and trying to come up with my own synopsis takes too long:

The Crescent Moon Kingdoms are at a boiling point. A struggle between the iron-fisted Khalif and the mysterious Falcon Prince is reaching its climax. In the midst of this brewing rebellion, a series of brutal supernatural murders strike at the heart of the Kingdoms.

Doctor Adoulla Makhslood, three score and more years old, has grown weary of hunting monsters and saving lives. But when an old flame's family is murdered, Adoulla is drawn back to the hunter's path. Raseed bas Raseed, a hidebound holy warrior, is eager to deliver God's justice. Zamia Badawi has been gifted with the near-mythical power of the Lion-Shape, but lives only to avenge her father's death. Until she meets Raseed and Adoulla.

When they learn that the murders and the brewing revolution are connected, the companions must race against time 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 the city, and the world itself, into a blood-soaked ruin. 
First of all, I would like to point out that the blurb I copied from the back of my book actually contained TWO separate grammatical errors, that I felt the need to correct before transcribing it. That's some piss-poor copy-editing there, Gollancz publishers. Real nice. I can't have spent too much time reading the back before picking this book up at a clearance sale at the Oslo Airport book shop a few years ago. I may have refrained from buying the book if I'd seen that. Now, having read the whole book (as far as I can recall, there are no egregious grammatical errors in the actual book), I'm glad I did buy it. It was an entertaining, and out of the ordinary read, for me.

Second of all, the blurb makes it seem as if Adoulla is actually pretty much retired when these supernatural murders occur. That is not the case. He is in fact pretty much the only one still trained in the old ways to kill ghuls and other horrible monsters, with most of his peers either already retired or dead. Naturally, he's getting a bit fed up, and feeling his age more and more. Raseed is a deeply religious dervish and Adoulla's apprentice. He's frequently shocked and outraged at the older man's speech and behaviour, but there is also clearly a lot of affection between them. Together, they work hard for little monetary reward and keep risking their lives to keep the populace of the Crescent Moon Kingdoms safe.

Zamia Banu Laith Badawi is a desert warrior, who was chosen to take on the role as Protector of her tribe, meaning she can shape-shift into a lion with supernaturally sharp claws and teeth. Normally, the role of Protector would be bestowed on a man, and after Zamia's entire tribe was brutally murdered by an evil, soul-stealing sorcerer, she is starting to believe that she is unworthy of her gifts. She has nonetheless sworn to avenge her people and while initially sceptical to Adoulla and Raseed, she agrees to join forces with them. As it turns out that her lion-shape is the only thing able to harm the incorporeal Jackal-spirit helping the sorcerer, her aid becomes invaluable to the ghul hunters.

The majority of epic fantasy seems to be both written and largely populated by white men. Luckily, the fantasy landscape isn't all J.R.R "I have three women of any importance in my fantasy epic, and let's face it, Arwen isn't much to write home about" Tolkien any more, but unlike in paranormal fantasy (where pretty much all the writers and protagonists I can think of are women, Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden being the notable exception), there is still a strong dominance of Caucasian men both writing and populating the stories. Now, Saladin Ahmed is also a dude, but he is of Arabian descent and there is not, as far as I can tell from their physical descriptions, a single white person in this book. The setting, characters, supernatural threats and magic is all Arabic-inspired, reminding me a lot of A Thousand and One Nights.

Two of the protagonists are men, one older, one young, but they would clearly be completely overpowered if not for Zamia. The most important supporting character is also a formidable woman of rank and magical abilities and it shouldn't be quite so surprising when women are given prominence and an equal share of the glory in fantasy. But it sort of is.

So why no more than 3.5 stars? Despite the interesting and unusual setting, the pretty cool characters and the fairly action-packed plot, I just kept waiting to get more engrossed in the story. It took me four full days to finish the book, which is unusual for a book of only 300 pages. I will absolutely be keeping my eye out for the next book in the series, as I hope that now that I've been introduced to the world and the characters, the next book may be more of a page-turner for me. A promising beginning to a series, but not the most exciting fantasy I've read. Huge kudos for doing something different, though.

Judging a book by its cover: The UK paperback I own of this has a fairly plain cover, a bluish purple with hints of mosaic decoration, with the Throne of the title prominently displayed, even highlighted as with a spotlight. There is a curved sword resting on it and quite a lot of blood on the sword, as well as the seat and base of the throne. I don't want to spoil too much of the book, but the image is really quite apt. The US cover has an artist's rendering of what the three protagonists might look like while fighting ghuls, but I actually prefer this simple cover, as my mental image of the characters doesn't match up with that of the other cover.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

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