This book, Saladin Ahmed’s Throne of the Crescent Moon (The Crescent Moon Kingdoms #1), was one I picked at random off the library shelves because the summary intrigued me, even though the cover looks like a bad anime. My apologies to any anime fans out there, but I personally find this stylization repellent on fantasy novels – this one in particular resembles a Scooby Doo episode, like “Scooby Doo! The Inferi of Agrabah.”
It’s not inferi, but djenns and ghuls haunt the Crescent Moon Kingdoms, where a power struggle brews between the despotic Khaliph and the Robin Hood-like Falcon Prince. Doctor Abdoulla Makhslood, the last real ghul hunter in the majestic city of Dhamsawaat, feels weary of his vocation and eager to retire when his old lover asks him to investigate a series of brutal murders. He is assisted by Raseed bas Raseed, a holy warrior whose piety belies his deadliness. But Raseed’s faith is tested when they find the shape-shifting tribeswoman Zamia Badawi, the lone survivor of her family’s massacre by the dangerous foe they’re all tracking. Soon, they discover a connection between the deaths and the Falcon Prince’s revolution, and must save the ruler they despise to protect the people they love.
I loved the setting for this book, very One Thousand and One Nights, an uncommon experience for fantasy novels despite the wealth of ideas found in that tome. Ahmed portrayed a convincingly Arabian-like locale without resorting to archetype. For example, the book successfully combined a religious system reminiscent of Sufi mysticism with a rich culture of supernatural creatures, such as the bone ghuls and the shape-shifter. While the world didn’t feel entirely fleshed out, especially politically with the relationship between the kingdoms, the city of Dhamsawaat certainly glowed through the eyes of Abdoulla and Zamia.
For the most part, I enjoyed the characters, a multitude of whom had point of view chapters allowing for in-depth character development. Abdoulla was perhaps my favorite, an extremely-huggable uncle who relatably loved tea, his books, and other comforts. Zamia was definitely my least favorite as she behaved petulantly towards her friendly saviors, like a lion biting the hand feeding her. Both of them, along with the rest, had their flaws and quirks, which made them quite realistic. I also appreciate experiencing their inner struggle over helping either the Khaliph or the Falcon Prince, seeing as how neither occupied the moral high ground.
By the middle, the plot was dragging slightly, as the investigation floundered and all the characters underwent this internal turmoil. The reveal of the villain was also disappointing as it felt rushed and anti-climactic, perhaps because his motivations and persona weren’t compelling. However, the main concluding action had me eagerly flipping pages, with it being so terrible and messy, yet perfect for the world they inhabit. I think the sequel may even be superior because of the potential in the ending.
I’d read a few terrible fantasies around the same time (reviews coming soon), so I have to say Ahmed renewed my hope for the year’s reads. Although a few parts dragged and others proved confusing, the plot and setting were unique and the characters memorable.