Why You Should Read: Throne of the Crescent Moon, Saladin Ahmed
By Luke Frostick
Fantasy is not a genre that is the sole preserve of the West. Every culture has its stories of monsters, magic, gods and heroes. However, a lot of the fantasy filling up the bookshops is grounded in the Western tradition. Thankfully, that is changing thanks to books like The Poppy War and Black Leopard, Red Wolf.
What is so exciting about being a fantasy fan nowadays is that with the publication of books grounded in cultures other than those of Anglo-Saxon mythology, we get to read about a whole bunch of new creatures, legends and mystical powers. Middle Eastern cultures, if approached respectfully, can be a gold mine for a fantasist. The Arabian Nights alone is already one of the greatest works of fantasy ever written.
Throne of the Crescent Moon, by Saladin Ahmed, is one of the first works of fantasy based on the Middle East that has really done it for me. The work of Stephen Erikson clearly takes inspiration from the Middle East, but where he draws from the ancient world, Throne of the Crescent Moon uses material explicitly from Islamic cultures. Ahmed’s world is monotheistic, with angels in heaven and those fallen, which feels very Islamic. It also has djin, khalif ghuls and dervish armed with two-pronged swords.
The story follows Doctor Abdoulla Makhaslood, an ageing ghul hunter who is starting to suspect that an agent of the fallen angel is about to unleash something horrible upon his beloved city. His mission is further complicated by a brewing conflict between the Khalif and a mysterious rebel, The Falcon Prince. The Doctor must gather a team of ghul hunters including a Dervish sword master, magi, alchemist and were-lion to help unpack the ghul master’s schemes and put and end to his evil magic, while failing to accede getting caught up int he Falcon Prince’s class war. The plot is pretty predictable and the arches of the characters, though all likeable, are telegraphed quite a long way in advance, but that didn’t bother me, as I was having enough fun along the way.
The world is really nicely built with enough detail and construction to enjoy while not detracting from the story. It carefully avoids the tropes and the cliches about the Middle East while still having fun with camels, alchemists, scimitars, nomads and a city full of vice.
The weakest part of the story is the villain; not the ghuls, who are greatly varied and horrifying, but the master behind them. The big bad behind it all is able to summon all these horrific monsters to take chunks out of the heroes, which is great, but ends up being a bit of a non-entity himself. I wonder if that is because Ahmed is setting up for a greater foe to be revealed in future books. I hope so. The front page of my copy says that is “Book one of the Crescent Moon Kingdoms” but according to the writer there isn’t likely to be a sequel any time soon. I hope that he changes his mind.