Friday, May 31, 2013

#FridayReview #11: The Throne of the Crescent Moon

As always, my turbulent existence has lead to another break, but I'm here again with another edition of the #FridayReview! This time its a book I picked up after hearing the author talk at Immortal ConFusion. Saladin Ahmed is a pretty cool guy, with a really cool name that I am totally jealous of. Just like the names of all his characters in his Hugo-nominated novel

This book is a delightful Sword and Sworcery in full Arab theme, my personal favourite theme. It has always perplexed me why Middle Ages Europe, largely the most stylistically dreadful period/place in human culture, has been the basis for so many fantasy novels. The obvious reason for this is influence of the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit, with their decidedly British flair for tiny hovels in hills surrounded by decaying ancient ruins. No doubt, ancient ruins are awesome, especially if they are as majestic as those in LOTR. However, in a day and age where we can see and study the influences of almost every culture in existence, I feel it behooves us to write outside our cultural sphere. Which is why I was so happy to read the fantastic Middle Eastern/North African styled world of the Crescent Moon -- an obvious reference if there ever has been one. And awesome one.

During one of the panels of the Con, Religion in Storytelling, I think, Mr. Ahmed and others talked about how in traditional Arab tales, and Arabic speech, praises to god are common, and not only common, but many are flavorful and long. In this book, as well as that one, God has many titles: "God is the Mercy that Kills Cruelty," and spells are prayers shouted in his name: "Beneficent God is the Last Breath in our Lungs!" It's pretty wicked. As a total heretic, I found all of the religion in this book really easy to get along with. It was also good to get a story where the Arab traditions and culture is viewed from the inside rather than a European-style adventurer showing up in an Arab themed locale.

But enough of the politicks and whatnot! You want to know how the book actually was. The answer is pretty radical. The magic has appropriate flair and majesty, and seems appropriately difficult to come by and use. There are restrictions and expenses for most powers, such as, well, all the main characters, and one of the sides. Adoulla Makhslood's magically pure-white kaftan will only remain so if he remains unmarried. Raseed bas Raseed's superhuman strength and speed and skill with his forked blade are only as great as his piety -- which is pretty great. Zamia Banu Laith Badawi is blessed with the ability to turn into a magical lion, but she pays for this gift by losing everyone she loves. And Dawoud, a side character who gives us a few POV chapters loses time off his life for every use of his life-saving magics. Really powerful magic seems to require really dark things -- which is what the entire plot revolves around.

Adoulla is a ghul hunter, which is like being an undead hunter, except ghuls come in a far greater variety than zombies and vampires. While he is reaching the end of his career, he's the only one around, and so he just keeps on working, with his heavenly charged assistant, Raseed bas Raseed. Another day on the ghul-hunting racket brings him into a far larger plot to stop an evil sorcerer from corrupting the throne of the Crescent Moon with dark magics from the Traitorous Angel (the Devil) and eating all the souls of everyone around, or turning their intestines into cobras (real from-book examples).

The story takes place almost entirely in the confines of the majestic city of Dhamsawaat, which is rich enough to host a book twice this one's length. (I will admit, it was a little short for me - at 260 something pages, it doesn't last long enough for me) Dhamsawaat may as well be a main character all its own, and indeed the whole story is almost just an excuse to go sight-seeing. If the city wasn't so interesting, it would be a problem, as it is, it's still a small flaw. The pacing is pretty good, and it doesn't really slow down, though by my usual taste in longer books, to me it barely got started up. Much of the book is devoted to the Falcon Prince, a princely thief who sort of steals the show whenever he shows up -- another small flaw -- and his rebellion against the obviously corrupt Kalif. Really, the only time we get to see any action on the side of the antagonist, the sorcerer Orshado, before the climax is through POV shots from a guard he's torturing, and occasional attacks by his minions, including the ghost-manjackal Mouw Awwa, whose dialogues are always great. That's the book's biggest flaw, by far. I really wanted more active adventure/invetigation against the evil superboss Orshado, and less passively collecting and deciphering clues. But that may be a personal preference for action. I will say that preference aside, I would have liked more interaction with Orshado, even though his final appearance is pretty epic.

Overall, the Throne of the Crescent Moon is a pretty grand adventure, with some flaws. It definitely deserves the Hugo and Nebula nominations it received, though I might not have voted for it to win. Although given the competition, I definitely might have.

ONE WORD REVIEW: MAJESTIC                                      B/W/D: BUY

No comments:

Post a Comment