jeudi 17 mai 2012

Throne of the Crescent Moon

"Nine days. Beneficent God, I beg you, let this be the day I die!
The guardsman’s spine and neck were warped and bent but still he lived. He’d been locked in the red lacquered box for nine days. He’d seen the days’ light come and go through the lid-crack. Nine days."

Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed is one of those books that you will have heard of if you spend any time whatsoever on genre book review blogs. It has had a lot of good press revolving firstly around Saladin Ahmed’s prior experience as a lauded short story writer and secondly around the quality of the book itself. As such I’ve had it on my TBR list for a little while and after finishing a handful of long books I decided to give it a try as a short-sweet change of pace.

Described by most of the blog reviews I have seen as sword-and-sorcery (shouldn’t that be scimitar-and-sorcery?), Throne of the Crescent Moon is one of my first experiences with the sub-genre. Beyond a couple of David Gemmell books I read and enjoyed a few years ago, I haven’t read much. From the experience of reading this one, though, I think it is a sub-genre I may need to spend more time on! 

Here’s the blurb:

The Crescent Moon Kingdoms, land of djenn and ghuls, holy warriors and heretics, Khalifs and killers, is at the boiling point of a power struggle between the iron-fisted Khalif and the mysterious master thief known as the Falcon Prince.  In the midst of this brewing rebellion a series of brutal supernatural murders strikes at the heart of the Kingdoms. It is up to a handful of heroes to learn the truth behind these killings:

Doctor Adoulla Makhslood, "The last real ghul hunter in the great city of Dhamsawaat," just wants a quiet cup of tea.  Three score and more years old, he has grown weary of hunting monsters and saving lives, and is more than ready to retire from his dangerous and demanding vocation. But when an old flame's family is murdered, Adoulla is drawn back to the hunter's path.

Raseed bas Raseed, Adoulla's young assistant, a hidebound holy warrior whose prowess is matched only by his piety, is eager to deliver God's justice. But even as Raseed's sword is tested by ghuls and manjackals, his soul is tested when he and Adoulla cross paths with the tribeswoman Zamia.

Zamia Badawi, Protector of the Band, has been gifted with the near-mythical power of the Lion-Shape, but shunned by her people for daring to take up a man's title. She lives only to avenge her father's death. Until she learns that Adoulla and his allies also hunt her father's killer. Until she meets Raseed.

When they learn that the murders and the Falcon Prince's brewing revolution are connected, the companions must race against time--and struggle against their own misgivings--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 Dhamsawaat, and the world itself, into a blood-soaked ruin.

One of the book’s main appeals for me was the character of Adoulla. While Raseed and Zamia remain relatively bog-standard young heroes following the classic coming-of-age storyline (with some neat tweaks to their relationship by the end that I didn’t necessarily expect), Adoulla is an old, fat, cynical hero reaching the end of his tether and looking forward to retiring. Unfortunately, retiring from being a ghul hunter is not as easy as retiring from a desk job. Throughout the novel, we follow Adoulla’s attempts to find a way out that will let him free himself from his calling while also doing the right thing regarding the menace hovering over the city of Dhamsawaat.

That menace is relatively ill defined throughout the novel, and by the time the reveal is made it seems a little tagged on. Still, it does set up a race against time that ups the tempo of the novel considerably, throwing action scenes, twists and character surprises at us from every direction. Mr. Ahmed does not avoid forcing his characters to face the consequences of their decisions, and each of them pays a price by the end.

In terms of worldbuilding, I found Mr. Ahmed did a good job of creating a really oriental, Arabian Nights vibe. However, the city of Dhamsawaat did not come across as the fully realised world that it could have been. Now that could conceivably be because I had just come off reading all three of Mark Charan Newton’s Villjamur novels, difficult to beat in terms of off the wall world building and creative city creation.

The magic in the novel was well thought out and intriguing. I look forward to learning more about djenn, ghulls and the other magical creatures that Mr. Ahmed has created.

What I wasn’t necessarily expecting beyond the worldbuilding and the characters was the humour with which Mr. Ahmed infuses his novel. Whether riffing off of Adoulla’s teasing of straight-laced Raseed or the cringe-worthy tension between Raseed and Zamia, the humour acts as a counterbalance to some of the darker or slower moments in the novel.

Overall, Throne of the Crescent Moon does the job of any first novel (both in a series and as a debut): It leaves you wanting more. I for one am looking forward to returning to Dhamsawaat and discovering how things have progressed for Adoulla, Raseed and Zamia. I give this 3 old fart’s looking to retire out of 5.

From the Blogosphere:

From the Author's Mouth:

2 commentaires:

  1. Oo, I didn't realize there would be humor, yey! I think I'll be okay with less world-building since it is such a short book and perhaps the sequels will continue to develop that aspect?

    1. No idea on the sequels, as far as I know it hasn't even been announced yet... Just checked and according to Saladin Ahmed's website it hasn't been finished yet.
      Still, the first one is definitely worth picking up and the humour is definitely present.
      Thanks for the comment!