Book Review: "Throne of the Crescent Moon" (SPOILERS)
This morning, I got done reading Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed. Now it's time for my review...
Firstly, I really liked the concept. The majority of fantasy, especially sword-and-sorcery, takes place in fake-medieval-Europe, not fake-medieval-anywhere else. Throne takes place in a city resembling medieval Baghdad, a city introduced by a really well-written poem at the beginning of the book. There are lots of good details that help build the world.
And the religious background of the novel, rather than being faux Christianity or faux paganism, is faux Islamic. I found that quite interesting, especially when we run into disagreements between religious moderates (Doctor Adoulla Makhslood), conservatives (Raseed bin Raseed), and out-and-out fundamentalists (the stand-ins for the Saudi morality police who become a problem later).
Although I'm not as familiar with sword and sorcery fiction, I've never read one where the protagonist is a fat old man (Adoulla) instead of a younger, flashier type. Points for creativity.
The novel is a quick read and isn't ever boring. It's got a lot of fun action sequences, including Raseed giving the Falcon Prince a run for his money in a sword fight, despite being drugged, and how the Falcon Prince's token of respect played a major role in resolving a major problem the characters have.
And the book's ending sets up an interesting sequel--the city's neighbors might not recognize the change of regime and the Falcon Prince controls the magics of the Khalifal throne that sound extremely dangerous to a non-expert. Adoulla, who has threatened to kill the prince if he misuses the magic, has retired and furthermore, said magics could make the user powerful enough to defeat armies. And Raseed is torn between his dervish order and Zamia. Things could get very dicey in the next book.
The book could easily be much longer. It's awfully short. In particular, I would have liked more depth to the world Ahmed has created, as well as more on the villains. The chief villain doesn't even get a name until much later in the book, and the connection between him and his man-jackal shadow-monster associate is only implied. I would have liked much more back story for both of them, especially since they're both killed off at the end of the novel.
Also, after Zamia is injured by the man-jackal, she loses her shape-shifting powers for a time. I thought this was associated with her wound, which has supernatural as well as physical components, but it's later revealed she is unable to change form while she is menstruating. That latter revelation/explanation came out of nowhere.
Finally, I found this article online this morning while searching for more information about the book. Ahmed could have added some more depth to Zamia's character and that of Litaz if he included more of this aspect of Islamic culture in the book. This article exaggerates the problem somewhat--Litaz and Zamia do have "girl time" on at least one occasion--but the female side of the story could have been developed more.
Something new in the fantasy world, but it could be better. Worth checking out from the library at least. 6.5 out of 10. Since the book jacket refers to this being part of a "Crescent Moon Kingdoms" series, hopefully Ahmed's next book in the series will go into more depth.