Thursday, May 14, 2015

Book Review: Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

As you may or may not know I frequently review short story podcasts over at Alternate History Weekly Update.  I figured it was about time I reviewed something on my own blog.  To that end I've decided to review Saladin Ahmed's debut novel Throne of the Crescent Moon, book one of the Crescent Moon Kingdoms series.

The book takes place in the titular Crescent Moon Kingdoms, a fictional world model off of the Middle East during the Golden Age of Islam.  It follows Doctor Adoulla Makhslood, the last great ghul hunter of the city of Dhamsawaat.  He's joined by his assistant Raseed bes Raseed, a member of a group of holy warriors known as Dervishes.  They later take in Zamia, a Badawi tribeswomen with the ability to turn into a lioness.  Rounding out the group are Dawoud and Litaz, a mage and an alchemist respectively, and Miri, the owner of a brothel and Adoulla's primary love interest.

There's trouble brewing in Dhamsawaat, the current Khalif is a cruel and ineffective ruler, and support is grown for the charismatic bandit known as the Falcon Prince, who I can best describe as a Middle Eastern Robin Hood; though he might not be much better.  Meanwhile, there's a potentially bigger problem in the form of the jackal-headed ghul Mouw Awa.  It'll take all the magic, sword fighting and determination for Adoulla and the gang the make it out alive.  

Now there's plenty of magic, sword fighting and adventure in this book to go around, but what stood out the most to me was the excellent world building.  Some of the most memorable scenes were about the day to day happening in Dhamsawaat.  I really felt like I was there exploring the limestone streets while sipping on cardamon tea.  It was also refreshing to read a fantasy novel that wasn't set in a thinly disguised version of Medieval Europe.  I liked how all of the cultures and peoples were based upon those of the Islamic world, the Middle East, and hints of Africa and India.  It feels like there's hints of a wider world to be fleshed out in the coming novels.  

The characters all had really well rounded personalities.  Take Adoulla for example; he gets his powers by quoting verses from what is essentially the in-universe version of the Koran, which is known as the Heavenly Chapters.  You'd expect him to be super pious and religious, but he's actually pretty laid back, takes it easy and enjoys drinking tea and taking naps.  On top of that he is at times a bit of a dirty old man, but he is also a very wise old man.  Contrast that with Raseed, who has a very holier than thou personality and his general taking everything seriously worldview.  The most memorable contrast was when Raseed gives a speech about the importance of holiness and virtue, to which Adoulla asks when the last time he got laid was.  I also liked how the characters ways of speaking and thinking was neither too antique nor too modern.

If you're like me and prefer your books in audio format you'll be please to know there is an audiobook available from, and from Brilliance Audio if you want the physical copy.  It is narrated by Phil Gigante, and he does an excellent job bringing the story to life.  He's a professional narrator and he does a spot on job of giving all of the character distinct voices and never slacks off. 

They say you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but I must say this book has one of the nicest covers I've seen in a long time.  It really is quite the work of art.  Speaking of art, the book includes a gorgeously drawn map of the Crescent Moon Kingdoms, made by the same artist who drew the map for the Codex Alera series.  In fact, it was through the map that I found this book.

Saladin Ahmed has also written two other stories set in the world of The Crescent Moon Kingdoms.  There's "Where Virtue Lives" about how Adoulla and Raseed first met, and there's "Judgement of Swords and Soul" all about the Lodge of God and featuring a character who will become important in the upcoming squeal to Throne of the Crescent Moon.  Both of them are available totally for free in audio form from PodCastle, the fantasy podcast of the Escape Artists podcast family.  Or, if you prefer reading with your eyes, you can find them in the e-book story anthology Engraved on the Eye, which collects several of Saladin's best stories.  

It's certainly one of the best high fantasy adventure novels I've read in a long time.  Saladin has a very promising writing career and is off to an amazing start.  He's got a squeal coming out soon, and I can hardly wait for it.  When I finished this novel I immediately sought out more of Saladin's work, and he continues to wow me with every story he writes.  

It's a breath of fresh air in a world of stale Eurocentric fantasy.  Get your copy, physical or audio, today.  

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